Quantcast

Why the Line 5 Oil Pipeline Threatens the Great Lakes

Energy
A diver with the National Wildlife Federation examines Line 5, Enbridge's oil and gas pipeline running along the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. National Wildlife Federation

An aging oil pipeline moves 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day along the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron crash into each other in the heart of the Great Lakes.


This pipeline—Line 5, built in 1953—is operated by the same company responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in North American history: Enbridge. During that pipeline rupture, previously known cracks formed into a 6 foot gash which spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Endangered piping plovers nest along the Great Lakes shorelines which would be impacted by a Line 5 oil spill.Vince Cavalieri / USFWS

What's Wrong with the Pipeline?

There are numerous places along the underwater section of the pipeline where protective coating is missing, and for much of the history of the pipeline, sections of pipe were not properly supported on the Lake Michigan lakebed—where it gets pummeled by oscillating currents. In fact, those supports were not replaced until video from a National Wildlife Federation dive inspection revealed they were lacking. Recently, Enbridge itself confirmed that part of its outer protection coating was missing from sections of the pipeline, and revealed in October 2017 that it has known about missing sections of coating since 2014 but failed to report the easement violation to state officials.

An April 2017 National Wildlife Federation report revealed that the land-based sections of Line 5 have leaked at least 29 times since 1968, spilling more than 1 million gallons of oil. We cannot risk a spill in the Straits, which a 2016 University of Michigan study estimates could put up to 700 miles of shoreline at risk depending on current and weather conditions, with up to 150 miles impacted in any one spill, risking a 17,000-square mile spill zone.

Additionally, the pipeline has been operating without an adequate spill response plan, as required by the Clean Water Act. Due to this, the National Wildlife Federation sued the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in January 2017, challenging this illegal operation of the pipeline.

What's at Stake?

At risk are the fish and wildlife of the Great Lakes, the drinking water relied upon by citizens, and the region's recreation and tourism economy which supports the northern Michigan way of life. So it should be no surprise that two-thirds of Michiganders oppose the continued operation of the pipeline under the Straits, as reported by a 2016 EPIC-MRA poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

Of particular note is the threat to the endangered piping plover shorebird. Piping plovers nest in the summer along the sandy beaches of the Great Lakes, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated critical habitat for piping plovers which falls within the spill zone risk identified by the University of Michigan.

What's Being Done About It?

The State of Michigan released a report on alternatives to Line 5 on June 29, while the week before it scrapped a risk analysis due to a conflict of interest arising from an employee of the firm hired to do the analysis also working on a separate project for Enbridge.

In September, Michigan's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board authorized a panel of academic experts from Michigan's universities, led by Dr. Guy Meadows of Michigan Technological University, to resume the risk analysis.

"This is a positive step in getting the state the actionable information it needs to decommission Line 5," said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center, and a member of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board when the academic study was approved. "Engaging top academic minds will ensure that Michigan's residents and resources will be prioritized."

Demand Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder act to keep the Great Lakes safe!

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Cigarette butt litter. Tavallai / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Dipika Kadaba

We've known for more than 50 years that smoking cigarettes comes with health hazards, but it turns out those discarded butts are harmful for the environment, too. Filtered cigarette butts, although small, contain dozens of chemicals, including arsenic and benzene. These toxins can leach into the ground or water, creating a potentially deadly situation for nearby birds, fish and other wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Thanasis Zovoilis / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Infants less than a year old should not be exposed to electronic screens, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.

Read More Show Less
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California is listed as the nation's smoggiest city. Pixabay

Seven million more Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2015 and 2017 than between 2014 and 2016, and climate change is partly to blame, Time reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less