Line 5 Poses Imminent Threat to Great Lakes

“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it.”  -David Schwab, Ph.D., research scientist at the University of Michigan Water Center.

Two oil pipelines collectively known as Line 5 are currently pumping 23 million gallons of oil and propane daily under the most volatile and critical region of the Great Lakes: the Straits of Mackinac. The Straits of Mackinac is the connecting waterway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and constantly experiences high winds, tall waves and strong, shifting currents. An oil spill in the Straits would be devastating to both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, local communities, Michigan’s economy and the natural ecosystem. WMEAC now stands in line with the Michigan Environmental Council, Oil and Water Don’t Mix, Kent County Water Conservation, among other organizations for the prompt and total shutdown of Line 5, for reasons of stewardship and safety.

“Lake Michigan provides drinking water to over ten-million people,” said Bill Wood, executive director of WMEAC. “No private interest or economic equation should ever trump safe drinking water.”

Line 5 was built in 1953 and projected to last for 50 years. Here we are, 63 years later, still pumping millions of gallons of oil daily through these deteriorating pipelines. The proprietor of the pipeline, Enbridge Inc., is a Canadian oil company that is supposed to have a mutualistic relationship with the State of Michigan, but denies the fact that this pipeline has a finite lifespan.

“It is important to keep water in the public trust,” said Stephanie Mabie, Executive Director of Kent County Water Conservation, “but we are letting an international oil company put the largest freshwater resource at risk.”

If you visit their website, Enbridge draws comparisons between Line 5 and the Eiffel Tower, claiming that, “Well-built and maintained steel infrastructure can withstand the test of time—Line 5 is no different.” What Enbridge does not acknowledge is the fact that the Eiffel Tower is not located at the bottom of the most volatile region of the Great Lakes. The Eiffel Tower is also not under the pressure of 23 million gallons of oil and propane a day, and is not risking complete devastation to the world’s largest freshwater system.

Enbridge also claims that, “The entire system is operated at a low pressure to minimize stress on the pipe.” This statement is slightly contradictory to their action in 2013, increasing the volume and the pressure in the pipelines by 10 percent.

For years, Enbridge has been withholding safety inspections and other data from the public and the state, which is a direct violation of their easement with the state, and should call for an immediate termination of the relationship with Enbridge and the oil flowing through Line 5. It is time for us to take action and petition our governor to put a stop to Line 5.

A key component in the supporting argument to keep Line 5 open, is for fear that a shutdown could be detrimental to the economy. However, For Love of Water’s (FLOW’s) analysis of the pipeline and Michigan’s energy infrastructure shows that Line 5 is not a vital part of Michigan’s economy. The overall system is flexible enough to meet energy demands even if Line 5 were decommissioned, making it an unnecessary risk and an idle shortcut by Enbridge.

Enbridge boasts that there are, “250 employees and contractors based across the Great Lakes State.” A 2010 study by the University of Michigan shows there are 525,866 Michiganders whose employment depends on the Great Lakes, 14 percent of those being tourism jobs. Enbridge’s 250 Michigan employees pales in comparison to the 74,000 tourism related jobs directly involved with the Great Lakes in Michigan alone that would be ravaged by an oil spill.

Enbridge has a $1 million liability insurance if there was a spill, which is basically nothing compared to the $1.2 billion that was spent to clean up the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, the largest land-based oil spill in U.S. history, which Enbridge was also responsible for. Not to mention how particularly difficult it would be to clean up the Straits of Mackinac. There is a contingency plan in place if a spill were to occur in the summertime, however the 3-5 foot waves and shifting currents could very well bring cleanup to a halt. If there was a spill in the wintertime, the oil would be trapped under several feet of ice, and there is currently no cleanup plan for that circumstance. By the time the ice melts, the spill will have spread hundreds of miles throughout both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

We live in a time of global turmoil and crisis when it comes to the availability and accessibility of freshwater, arguably the world’s most critical resource. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the earth’s fresh surface water and, “Looking at global water issues and scarcity, the Great Lakes will be at the heart of [the solution].” Mabie said. “We [as Michiganders] have an even greater responsibility to protect the water resources.” Line 5 has been grandfathered in to Michigan’s energy infrastructure. If such a project were proposed today, current environmental laws would not allow for such a substantial risk to be taken with such a large amount of the earth’s freshwater.

Studies from the University of Michigan show that if a spill were to occur that the oil could reach more than 700 miles of coastline, 15 percent of Lake Michigan’s open water and 60 percent of Lake Huron’s. It would be unthinkably harmful not only to Michigan’s waterways and ecosystems, but also the thriving tourism industry of Pure Michigan. The tourists will find somewhere else to vacation–like we saw in the Gulf following BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Enbridge will continue to profit and pump oil elsewhere and Michigan residents and communities will have to deal with this disaster for years to come.

“We cannot risk our most precious finite water resource for a temporary energy resource,” Mabie said.

CLICK HERE to join the petition and stand beside WMEAC to end the use of Line 5, an unnecessary and irresponsible risk to the largest and most beautiful freshwater system in the world.

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