Near Miss at Line 5. Great Lakes Crown Jewel at Risk

April 13, 2018


Last week, 550 gallons of coolant containing the carcinogenic solvent benzene were released into Lake Michigan from an electrical transmission cable running under the Straits of Mackinac. It happened because a ship went through the Straits dragging its anchor.

Enbridge Energy clearly had an “oh shit!” moment since the twin gas (note: Liz Kirkwood of FLOW tells me “twin OIL pipelines is more accurate – Peter) pipelines they own that run under the Straits were just a few hundred yards away. Sure enough, after an inspection, they found three dents in the two pipelines which carry nearly 1 million gallons of petroleum per hour. The pipelines, part of Enbridge’s Line 5, are 65 years old.

As I wrote in 2015, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand the utter catastrophe that would result if this pipeline, like the Enbridge pipeline that dumped over a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, were to rupture. Imagine the scenario of this happening in February when the Straits of Mackinac are covered in eight feet of solid ice and when the only ship traffic is through a narrow channel created by a Great Lakes icebreaker. It’s no wonder that University of Michigan researchers called the Straits “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

It’s worth noting that the Line 6B spill cost well over $1,000,000,000 (yes, that’s a BILLION dollars) to clean up.

Here’s a bit more information to freak you out, again from my 2015 essay:

For their part, Enbridge says that Line 5 is one of the “most inspected pipelines” in America. However, there is literally no plan in place to deal with a pipeline rupture that will adequately protect the Great Lakes so essentially what they are telling us is that they will know they exact moment when they begin to destroy this precious and valuable ecosystem and fresh water supply. Nearly a million gallons of oil would erupt into Lake Michigan per hour until they could get it under control.

Given that it took them 17 hours after the Kalamazoo pipeline ruptured before they notified anyone, we have no way of knowing when they would actually tell the world that they had created the most catastrophic man-made disaster in Michigan history.

This is apparently what nearly happened last week when the dragging ship anchor kertwanged off both pipelines.

In response, Gov. Rick Snyder quickly issued a sternly-worded press release “demanding that its own experts verify” Enbridge’s contention that all is well and that there is nothing to see here. He also asks could they please hurry up with the study that he “demanded” last fall from Enbridge investigating other alternatives to Line 5.

The fact is, Line 5 is simply a shortcut for moving Canadian oil to another part of Canada. Instead of going through Canada, it detours through Michigan:

Image courtesy of For Love of Water (FLOW)

A 2015 report from For Love of Water (FLOW) details that alternatives DO exist and that Line 5 is not “vital energy infrastructure”, despite claims otherwise. According to a fact sheet published by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Line 5, which transports synthetic crude, natural gas liquids, sweet crude, and light sour crude, does not have a federally approved emergency response plan at the Straits. It has already leaked over 1 million gallons of oil in the past 50 years.

FLOW (For Love of Water):

2. Preliminary findings in the FLOW report show that Line 5 through theStraits of Mackinac is not vital energy infrastructure to Michigan’s economy.The overall pipeline system is flexible enough to meet existing demand if Line 5 through the Straits were decommissioned. Realistic alternatives to Line 5 in the Straits could be met without disrupting distribution of natural gas liquids, including propane, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Alternatives to the Line 5 segment in the Straits would eliminate unacceptable harm to the Great Lakes and Michigan communities while still meeting our energy needs.

3. Decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits is the best option. FLOW’s reportconcludes that decommissioning Line 5 in the Straits is the best option because it would eliminate or avoid the unacceptable and imminent harm and high risk to the Straits and Great Lakes. Moreover, the dynamic pipeline system serving Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and elsewhere meets the purposes of the larger regional system of petroleum distribution and Enbridge could continue transporting substantial volumes of crude oil.

  1. Segment-by-segment, Enbridge has effectively built its own version of thenow rejected “Keystone XL Pipeline” through the center of the Great Lakesand across Michigan without public, state, and federal consideration and evaluation of the full range of existing alternatives. In Michigan, following its 2010 Kalamazoo oil spill disaster, Enbridge applied for “maintenance and integrity” measures for Line 6B before the Michigan Public Service Commission,when in fact, it built a brand new Line 6B that more than doubled its capacity to as much as 800,000 bpd. Had Enbridge disclosed its larger project intentions, a more properly scoped alternative analysis would have evaluated Line 5, Line 6B, other pipelines, needs of users, and the pipeline system as a whole, and the imminent and unacceptable harm to the Straits could and would have been addressed.


7 Responses to “Near Miss at Line 5. Great Lakes Crown Jewel at Risk”

  1. Abel Adamski Says:

    Prepare for the class actionS against The Company, the members of the Board when the decisions were made to take that option, the current Board and the Directors and Senior executives both at the decision, implementing time and current.

    That may be what it takes to bring about intelligent corporate decision making

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    We need to start two pools—-one on when Line 5 will have its disaster, and another on when it will be shut down because it’s the only sensible thing to do.

    Disaster pool—-pick a month between May 2018 and May 2025.

    Shut Down pool—–pick a month between May 2050 and “never”.

  3. L RACINE Says:

    Yes this pipeline is a very bad idea… but there is really nothing unique about it, there are DOZENS of other pipelines that go under the Great Lakes Shipping channels that are just as vulnerable. Take a look at some of the other choke points, like Sarnia, or how about the lines that cross the St Lawrence river, or the lines that run from Toronto to Buffalo.

    So you put a spot light on this one line, but you lost track of the big picture. Why do we have these lines!!! What happens if you get rid of them? How much will it cost? And what is the carbon foot print to abandon the existing infrastructure and replace it with something…. And well… just what to you think you can replace this with!!!

    Renewables you say…. well that dog don’t hunt… it’s still wet behind the ears and a pup. The technology is years away from being scaled up to reliably replace the “energy” coming from the fossil fuel transported in these pipelines. So get a grip and face the hard light of reality.

    We are so F’in screwed…. and believing in fairy-tale panacea, that is a long way off in the future,,, maybe… isn’t going to help solve or mitigate a way to unF ourselves in the near future, we are running out of time folks.

    For years I had a pipeline and electric transmission transportation map of US and Canada on my office wall, well you can’t get them anymore because that knowledge is considered a security risk….. this is the best I could find and it will give you a insight into the potential damages these lines can inflect on the environment….

    And if you think pipelines are bad, take a look at the damage the Great Lake Ships (many of them also haul crude) have done when the run aground or sink.

    This article reads like a NIMBY… not in my back yard… well if you want to keep your standard of living, you need the energy and it has to come from someplace while replacement technologies mature and are scaled up… and I don’t see any real,”mainstream”, “WW2 type push” for those technologies to be developed.

    I am angry at the stupidity of mankind!

  4. dumboldguy Says:

    Well said, Louise.

    Don’t take anyone to task for losing track of the “big picture”. In this modern facebook/twitter world of self absorption, very few people are looking beyond their own “backyard”.

    I have said many times that the human species is not worthy of continued existence. The reasons why are almost beyond counting, but pipelines is one of them, whether looked at singly or collectively.

  5. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Renewables you say…. well that dog don’t hunt… it’s still wet behind the ears and a pup. The technology is years away from being scaled up to reliably replace the “energy” coming from the fossil fuel transported in these pipelines. So get a grip and face the hard light of reality.”

    You could have said that twenty years ago. The tech is ready now, it just has not been built. Plenty of examples around the world where they HAVE built the RE we all know we need, and it works just fine. Twenty years of saying it’s years away, when it could have been built already if we all had as much sense as, say, the Chinese.

  6. Sir Charles Says:

    The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm former Inhofe staffer and coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to the position of deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to serve as Scott Pruitt’s second in command.

    => Former Coal Lobbyist Confirmed as No. 2 at EPA

Leave a Reply to Gingerbaker Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: