There is a 68-year-old, deteriorating pipeline running through the heart of the Great Lakes. These same lakes contain 21 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and 84 percent of North America’s freshwater. This pipeline, known as Line 5, lies in “the worst possible place for an oil spill” in the Great Lakes, crossing right through the Straits of Mackinac. It has leaked 33 times since 1953 spilling at least 4.5 millions liters of oil into surrounding lands and waters. This dangerous pipeline is operated by Canadian-owned Enbridge Inc. and carries up to 540,000 barrels worth of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.
Enbridge is doing everything in their power to convince the public and politicians that this pipeline is safe and that there’s no way we can live without it. This isn’t that surprising since it’s in their business interest to do so. But for those of us who live in the region, it’s in our best interest to put the Great Lakes first. We depend on these majestic bodies of water for all aspects of our lives — from clean drinking water, crop irrigation, fishing, recreation, connection to the natural world, and so much more.. After all, water is life. We cannot drink oil.
Here are five reasons why it is time to shutdown Line 5:
1. A rupture into the Great Lakes would be devastating.
A rupture of Line 5 into the Straits of Mackinac could engulf over 1100 kms of shoreline — and it could happen at any moment. This pipeline is operating almost 20 years beyond its designed lifespan of 50 years. Numerous safety violations have occurred and the pipeline is in a state of ill repair. A worst-case oil spill from Line 5 into the Straits would cost a minimum of $1.3 billion in economic damages, affecting everyone — from our drinking water supply, shoreline recreation, fisheries, tourism, and businesses. This number is actually quite conservative as it does not include impacts to human health or Ontario shorelines.
2. Enbridge’s track record isn’t great when it comes to pipelines.
In 2010, Line 6B ruptured into the Kalamazoo River resulting in over $1 billion in clean up costs. It took Enbridge 17 hours to shut down Line 6B. In fact, it wasn’t even Enbridge that detected the spill — a local utility man who smelled gas did. Between 2000-2014 alone, there have been over 1,276 spills across the entire Enbridge pipeline system that have dumped over 35 million liters of oil into the environment. That’s an average of 91 spills and 2.5 million liters per year!
3. Indigenous rights and sovereignty
The history and ongoing legacy of settler colonialism has time and time again caused immense harm to Indigenous peoples. Pipelines are just one of the ways that colonial institutions and extractive industries have violated Indigenous rights, displaced Indigenous nations and peoples from traditional lands, and harmed the lands and waters they rely on. And since time immemorial Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the natural world and these systems that provide all that is needed for life. Indigenous peoples see water as a living relation and essential for all life, including the harvesting of fish species that have been an integral part of their diet for 10,000+ years.
In the case of Line 5, five Federally Recognized Tribes in the US have court adjudicated Treaty Rights to harvest fish from the Great Lakes thanks to the 1836 Treaty of Washington. The State of Michigan never consulted Michigan Tribes prior to operating the pipeline, nor were they consulted about the proposed tunnel construction. All of this goes against inherent treaty rights.
All 12 U.S. Federally Recognized Tribes in Michigan have committed resolutions calling on the shutdown of Line 5. The Anishinabek Nation which represents 39 First Nations communities in Ontario has also come forward in support of the closure of Line 5.
Line 5 threatens the waters, lands, and way of life for Indigenous peoples of the area and of all peoples living in nearby shoreline communities. In order to support justice for Indigenous peoples and protect all that is sacred to life, we must stand in solidarity with sovereign Indigenous nations of the area that are calling for a Line 5 shutdown.
4. We need urgent action on the climate emergency and climate justice.
Despite the urgent need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, crude oil production in the United States and Canada has actually grown substantially over the past several years. And yet, the demand for crude oil in the U.S. and Canada has been essentially flat.
This growth in oil supply has resulted in the creation of new pipelines and the expansion and lifespan extension of old ones. All of this is happening at a time when we should be prioritizing a just transition to renewable energy rather than burning more fossil fuels.
We do not have the luxury of time anymore. We are in a very real climate emergency. But the good news is that the solutions to this crisis create opportunities to build new systems that work for our collective well-being.
5. There is capacity within the pipeline system to meet our energy needs
Enbridge claims that shutting down Line 5 would cause shortages of propane and crude oil for refineries in both Canada and the U.S. However, independent experts from London Economics International (LEI) analyzed these claims and found that without Line 5, there is capacity in the existing pipeline system to meet most of, if not all, of, Michigan and Ohio’s energy needs with additional capacity free to feed Canadian refineries in Ontario and Quebec. Check out our backgrounder that goes into this in more detail.
It’s time to protect the Great Lakes and shut Line 5 down
The evidence is clear. We must stand together for the water, for the Great Lakes, for Indigenous nations, and for residents of surrounding watersheds. We also must stand together and give humanity a chance at avoiding the worst outcomes of climate change. We are calling for a shutdown of Line 5. We must put the health of the people and the planet ahead of the short term financial gain of Enbridge – a multibillion dollar corporation and fossil fuel giant with an awful environmental track record.