Opinion | We can’t trust Enbridge – we must close Line 5

Larry Bell is founder of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo and co-chair of the Great Lakes Business Network.

The past week, more than ever, Enbridge has shown Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her administration that Line 5 can no longer remain in our Great Lakes and that Enbridge lacks the required safety management culture to continue the operation of Line 5 in our waters.

Gov. Whitmer has shown strong leadership in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now she needs to show similar resolve in the face of a potential catastrophic oil spill from Line 5: Whitmer must act to shut down the Line 5 pipeline.

During the 2010 Enbridge oil spill, which covered the Kalamazoo River in oil for nearly 40 miles, Bell’s Brewery had a front row seat into the underbelly of Enbridge’s behavior as a corporation. In the events leading up to that spill and in their response, they showed a complete disregard for the communities they impact. They failed to follow basic safety protocols, tried to underplay impacts, disregarded local oversight, were willfully unprepared for the disaster they caused, and they had a total disregard for area businesses impacted by their failure as a company.

Were line 5 to rupture below the surface of Lake Michigan, in addition to losing our fresh drinking water and basic way-of-life, thousands of Northern Michigan businesses could be lost. In 2017 alone, Michigan had over 200,000 jobs directly supported by tourism, most of which are generated in this exact location. Travelers to Michigan spent $24.7 billion while visiting our Great Lakes State, generating $2.7 billion in state and local taxes.

Businesses across all sectors, including much of the craft beer community, rely on the clean, safe water from the Great Lakes. A line 5 failure could decimate that revenue and cut entire communities off from basic needs, including safe drinking water.

After all, would you be heading north with the family for a summer vacation if the beaches were awash in crude oil and the lake breeze carried the odor of the industrial solvents used to make tar sand oils pumpable? Of course not.

The new revelations that Enbridge has once again decided to forgo safety, and continue the operation of Line 5 in the face of unknown forces causing damage to line 5 has shown, without a doubt, that the culture within this company has not changed in the 10 years since the 2010 spill.

The same day Enbridge revealed this damage, they were also agreeing to pay a $6.7 million fine to the EPA for failing to meet safety requirements that are part of the settlement following the 2010 spill. Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is not a “solution” to the immediate risk posed by continuing operation of Line 5 in this location.

Enbridge’s false claim that this project could be completed by 2024 is their last-ditch effort to keep Line 5 running for as long as possible. The reality is that a project like they are proposing needs incredible review and consideration and will face major legal challenges. In Minnesota, where they are requesting a rebuild of Line 3, it has been seven years of permitting and legal challenges and they still face hurdles before they can consider construction.

Michigan can’t wait four years, let alone another decade. Along with my colleagues in the Great Lakes Business Network, we applaud the recent strong action of attorney general and her successful requests for a temporary shut down of the pipeline. We are now calling on Gov. Whitmer to use her full authority to join the attorney general in her lawsuit to revoke the Enbridge easement. Yet another near miss on Line 5 and Enbridge’s total disregard for our state’s authority, as well as not meeting federal safety requirements, should be the last wake-up call needed for Gov. Whitmer to finally act on her duty to protect the citizens and business of this state by removing these pipelines from our freshwater.

If Gov. Whitmer does not act in this moment, it appears the only way Line 5 will be shut down is through a rupture.

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Andrew Paterson
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 5:19pm

I agree that: "Enbridge’s proposed tunnel is not a “solution” to the immediate risk" But it is very definitely an excellent solution to the long term risk. Litigation that delays the building of the tunnel simply extends the "immediate risk", and that is very definitely counter productive to the goal of protecting the Great Lakes. So, the question becomes how do you litigate to shut them down and yet encourage them to get building apace? A tough problem I haven't heard answers to as yet.

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 10:33pm

The solution is simple Andrew, Shut the lines down, remove them from the Great Lakes and kick Enbridge out of Michigan. There is no law that says Michiganders have to accept this type of environmental danger. If you live in the U.P. and don't want to pay extra for fuel supplies, move. Its that simple.

Lisa Patrell
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 8:42am

Their is not any "long term risk" either in the case of decommissionting Line-5. The Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force (UPEF) has researched impact and drafted a plan for alternative delivery of propane. The well-being of a foreign oil company is the within the scope of Michigan's nor the United States' oath of office of scope of work. Should Enbridge want a tunnel, they can pursue tunneling in Ontario. Michigan must stop being the shortcut and doormat.
BTW: the Straits portion is not the only part of Line-5 at risk. There is the portion along Lake Michigan's northern shore (US-2) where rising water levels and shoreline erosion are unaddressed. Moreover, there are 400+ inland waterways that the Line-5 crosses (with a track record of 1000+ known leaks). These land portions of Line-5 are of the same longitudinal seam construction as the infamous Line-6B (Kzoo rupture).

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 6:45pm

And alcohol costs across society amount to how much? The same logic that allows the state to seize private assets such as the pipeline based on unmeasured and minuscule probabilities easily transfer to other areas you may not like as much.

UP Loon
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 9:50am

This is not a seizure. It is acknowledging that the deal Enbridge cut with Michigan in 1953 has a series of serious violations. Enbridge has broken its pact numerous times and the $6.7 million federal fine for safety violations acknowledges that one more time. On the other hand, Enbridge is using Eminent Domain to seize private property at the Straits in order to build the tunnel. It has used the same tool on Line 6 in Wisconsin and it will use it again all along Line 5 if the tunnel is ever built. I'm not okay with that.
Why do you defend the greedy foreign corporation.

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 8:52am

Instead of trying to shut down Line 5, BUILD THE TUNNEL!!!! Every attempt to shut down the pipeline only extends the time that the pipeline will continue running. Oil, an international commodity, will be around for many years and the alternatives to pipelines as a means of oil transportation are far worse. Instead of wasted effort to shut it down, the State should be gangbusters to get the tunnel built. If they started now and encouraged building and removed all red tape, it could be done in 4 years, and with extreme effort, maybe 3 years. If Whitmer had taken up what Snyder had proposed, we would only be at most 2 years away. Then we would have a transportation corridor far removed from the waters of the Great Lakes. And don’t try to clog up the build with additional traffic lanes. Right now the proposal is to build the tunnel with private money. Mix in public traffic and the funding gets very, very messy.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 1:11pm

Arjay, a tunnel is a different situation and a different fight taken by those opposed to any transporting of that Canadian oil through our waters and state. Line 5 is one thing and a tunnel to run that line through is another. They do not have to be combined together at all. Line 5 has already leaked over 1 million gallons along it’s route, just not in Lake Michigan! (Yet) If Enbridge wants to continue with the thought of building a tunnel, they are free, at this point, to do so. The Line 5 twin pipelines, on the other hand, should and hopefully will be, shut down and removed from the bottom lands. Our state and many other states surrounding these Great Lakes, oh and not to mention the Great Lakes holds over 20% of the WORLD’s fresh surface water, depend on that water for drinking, to the tune of around 40 million people. The businesses and people needing this water for pure survival outweighs what could be a catastrophe of the largest proportion in our country. Can we afford to take a chance on a spill. No way!

Jake K
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 8:53am

So is the long term solution to drain Line 5 and shut it down entirely? It seems as though eliminating the potential for any environmental disaster will require alternate means of transporting the resources needed for business and community to exist. It's too bad that the importance of such decisions tends to drift along with the politics of the day.

Rich Studley
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 8:59am

If Line 5 is shut down, the question for Mr Bell and others who favor bumper sticker solutions to complicated public policy problems remains: which alternative to Line 5 do support? Oil barges in the Great Lakes? An endless convoy of trucks crossing the Mackinac Bridge all day, every day? Miles & miles of trains? Or should millions Michiganders be forced to endure a lengthy & severe propane shortage for homeowners combined with higher gas prices for motorists? The best way to protect the Great Lakes is to replace Line 5 with a safe, modern underground tunnel!

Oil is life.
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 9:28am

I would like to ask Mr. Bell if he drives a vehicle that uses petroleum products, does he use petroleum to heat his house, use any plastic? How about the trucks delivering a Bell’s beer? Or does the beer just miraculously appear on the shelf?
Oil is ingrained in every single facet of our lives. We need oil for everything. Mr. Bell is a hypocrite in calling for the shut down of line 5. If the people calling for the shutdown of line 5 would put that energy into supporting the tunnel then there would be less risk to the straights.
Relax Mr. Bell, the sky is not falling.

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 1:05pm

Thank you.

A Yooper
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 9:49am

Shut the damn thing down period. Ferrell gas which supplies much of Wisconsin, is already supplying in the U.P. and would love to take more money up here.
Enbridge are liars and deceivers.

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 10:18am

Enbridge has numerous alternative pipelines to send its Alberta crude to the South and to Canada where virtually all Line 5 goes. It turned down a Canadian option north of Lake Superior.
You don’t get it. This is Canadian oil going to Canada. Michigan is a shortcut, taking all the risks as Mr. Bell carefully explains. It doesn’t need to be here. There are pipelines to handle it. And we can all drive our cars worry free if it disappears.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 9:52am

Thank you.

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 10:53am

Sick of Enbridge corruption and lies! Shut them out of Michigan and move toward establishing stricter protocols that protect the Great Lakes so we don't have to continue these ongoing battles with greedy corporate entities. Pretty obvious we need to move in a new direction.

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:17am

Mr. Bell is correct. Enbridge is not to be trusted given all the machinations they engage in to protect what they think is their domain.

As to Mr. Studley's comments--I would certainly love to know how much Enbridge has promised to the State Chamber of Commerce with the secretive, quick and last minute deal then Governor Snyder made with Enbridge.

Dennis Oneill
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:23am

I see. So lets shut down the pipeline. Not build the tunnel. Haul oil in tanker ships and trains. Charge the poor people in the U.P. twice as much as they pay now. Then when an oil tanker sinks or a train derails we can sit around and whine about how the train company or shipping company should have implimented more precautions to avert such a disaster. Maybe even sue them for creating such a devestating ecological disaster. A cost which they will pass on to thier customers.

In fact, just off the top of my head. Arent the shipping lanes of the great lakes closed during winter months because of ice. Oh, and how passable are the roads after one of those famous upper peninsula snow storms? Yea. Shutting down the pipeline with no alternative sounds like a great idea now. NOT.

And i saw someone say well if the people up north dont like to pay the extra price they can just move. Obviously, a person who lives in the city and doesnt have a clue about the U P except for maybe going to the cabin. People who live in those communities have lived there for generations. They want to live there because they dont want home owners associations, and every busy body in the nieghborhood telling them how to live. They live there because they want to be close to nature and enjoy the outdoors. They also dont want to deal with sirens day and night, people being ignorant to each other and long lines at every business they need to go to.

The trade off is they know they wont make the most money there. So they have to budget tighter. Teach there kids to be more frugal and how to save. They dont get to buy the latest $700 purse. And they are good with that. But they also will not stuff thier aging parents into a nursing home like you see in the cities either. Nor will they abandon thier brothers and sisters because life is a little hard. No. That person who said they should just move has no clue.

Heres an idea. Enbridge says they can build the tunnel in 4 years. Well let them. If what they did in the 50s was so bad. Give them all the rules up front and then let them go to work. Four years later if they meet all the requirements approve the permit on the tunnel and then let the oil flow. Easy.

Oh wait. Too much common sense?? Sorry.

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 2:53pm

Propane will cost five cents more per unit in the UP if Line 5 is decomissioned without replacement. Spare us your drivel; Enbridge is the only one who profits from piping fossil fuels under the Straights, while the environment and the people of Michigan and Ontario bear the risk

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:48am

Enbridge is willing and able to build a tunnel around the line. But the government would rather tie it up in court. Closing line 5 would destroy Michigans economy. Gas prices would skyrocket. The upper peninsula would lose almost all of its propane supply. And almost all of the area refineries would inevitably be forced to shut down. Losing thousands of high paying and skilled trades jobs to the area.

UP Loon
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 12:26pm

I’ve been buying propane for 40 years at my residence in the UP. My tank is full as are most tanks. We have propane coming in from Wisconsin and Ontario. We could weather a permanent Line 5 shutdown.
Just take away this risk, this Sword of Damacles hanging over us.
Thank you Mr Bell.

Black Note Stout
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 7:57pm

Could use a Black Note Release Bell. Quit worrying about the pipeline.

Randy Welch
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 4:06pm

Go ahead and shut every line down. Turn of your home heating and park your car. Lets see how that works out for you.

ian Bund
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 5:50pm

Larry’s writeup provides a great perspective. He and many employees and neighbors were directly affected by the 2010 rupture of Line 6B near Kalamazoo. Enbridge knew as early as 2005 that this line had cracks and did nothing about it out of a callous policy commitment to running their obsolete and rusty pipelines to failure.
The evidence is mounting that the portion of Line 5 under the Straits is failing. The AG has done the right thing in obtaining a TRO to shut both lines under the Straits. In my view this order needs to become permanent until Enbridge commits to a safe alternative.
It is to be noted that the proposed tunnel is not sufficient of an Enbridge priority to be included in their SEC reports on capex commitments. The tunnel is a red herring to buy time to continue to operate an obsolete and dangerous Line 5.

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 3:22pm

If you think that the tunnel project is really a "red herring", why wouldn't the Whitmer administration just "call their bluff" and approve the permits? Then see whether Enbridge is really serious about spending $500 million on the project.

You can't seriously make this (ridiculous) argument, and also fight tooth and nail against them doing it.

Gary Lea
Tue, 06/30/2020 - 9:57am

Shut it down; soon, battery electric tanker trucks will further reduce propane delivery costs.

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 1:21pm

Because Native Americans were the first to live on the land that was claimed by the USA, they have undeniable rights to this land. Whites can claim that this is "their land" and that those who do not speak "English" can "Go back to where they came from." but the fact is, that it is EVERYONE EXCEPT for the Native Americans who came from somewhere else...

They have NEVER been "citizens of America" because this was their land BEFORE there WERE citizens of America - a title that exists ONLY because white people came here and claimed that it exists...White minds made it so...simply by saying it was true and killing anyone who disagreed.
Because they did not agree to be forced into submission by those who took over their lands, killed their people and destroyed many of their cultures, they are not considered citizens of the USA, but rather have what is called sovereignty -which, literally translates into supreme power of authority. These people are DUE THIS RIGHT, they did not take it. They are not racist...they are who they are and have had a right to refuse to be forced to assimilate into a culture that is NOT their own.
I mean, you folks don't even like it that they choose to respect their own religious beliefs that they have passed down for thousands of years...so don't be hypocrites.
Learn your history before you start insulting people and telling people what you see as being facts.
Because these people are not considered to be US Citizens, they do not get the benefits that citizens can obtain. They can't go to social services and collect welfare...and they are forced to deal with what people who ARE indeed racists want to give them...the scraps of what is left over after your ancestors TOOK everything from them when YOUR ancestors first arrived on these lands--THEIR LANDS.
So no. They can't just get over it...it is not fair to expect them to simply assimilate to what YOU want and believe...why should they? You're not even willing to agree to help them with a little bit of food or shelter...or decent medical care...your answer is to simply scream that they are racist...to hide behind your walls of cognitive dissonance and to pretend that their children and elderly deserve what they get because, after all...YOU assimilated to things YOU didn't want to do in life--am I right?
God people...why can't you ever try to see beyond your own nose? Why can't you take the time to learn history before you make things worse with petty, selfish opinions?
Why can't you just SHUT UP and mind your own business instead of spreading lies, ill concepts and making people hurt more just because you want to say something--when you should say NOTHING.

Tony Ettwein
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 8:39am

Larry is absolutely right about not trusting Enbridge. They under-reported the amount of oil spilled in the 2010 Kalamazoo River incident multiple times.

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 11:54am

The project was approved (supposedly) in a hurried lame duck session behind closed doors. Is this how we the people (guardians) of one fifth of the world's fresh water supply, protect and preserve it for future generations?