If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

It was eight years after World War II. Back then, in 1953 we didn’t know any better, when Michigan gave Interprovisional Pipe Line Company, a Canadian firm now known as Enbridge Incorporated, an easement to lay twin oil pipelines on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. If we have learned anything over the last seventy years, it is that was an environmentally ignorant idea. The Straits of Mackinaw are the worst possible place to put an oil pipeline.

We also know the Great Lakes are one of the most important natural wonders in the world. They hold 21 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. They provide water to nearly 40 million people, ten percent of the U.S. population and thirty percent of the Canadian population. The Great Lakes as we know them today were formed 3,000 years ago. Preserving and protecting them is our responsibility to ensure they will remain pure for the next 3,000 years.

If we knew in 1953 what we know now about the tragic consequences of major oil spills, we would have never granted an easement to construct Enbridge Line 5. So, now Enbridge is asking to build a tunnel under those Straits to relocate Line 5. I would hope we have learned enough to say no this time.

But that’s not the case. On December 1, 2023, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a permitting proposal for Enbridge’s tunnel idea. That is in spite of Michigan Governor Whitmer revoking Enbridge’s easement back in 2020. Talk about mixed signals? Wake up Michigan and correct the mistake you made seventy years ago.

Enbridge’s Line 5 has a horrible time keeping the oil in their pipes. Over the past fifty years it has had twenty-nine spills, pouring over a million gallons of toxic oil into the environment. We are on borrowed time, and Line 5 must be shut down soon, because it is not if, but when, a catastrophic oil spill will occur.

The oil begins in Canada and is piped to Superior, Wisconsin which is where Line 5 picks it up and runs 645 miles through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac, then though northern Michigan, with most of the oil going to Sarnia, Ontario refineries. It is basically a Canadian pipeline running to Canada. It also transports natural gas liquids that are converted into propane. So, what happens if Line 5 was shut down?

Enbridge’s own consultant testified that gasoline prices in Michigan would go up a measly one-half of one cent per gallon. On the other had, propane is a concern, but could be remedied with alternate solutions like adding extra storage capacity and bringing it in by rail or truck. The bottom line is we are not totally dependent on line 5 here in the states.

Even if the tunnel idea was a good one, and it is not, Enbridge would be the last corporation I would want to construct it. Remember the Enbridge Line 6B oil spill into the Kalamazoo River?  Enbridge was warned of corrosive seams in 2005, but ignored it, so when one of those seams ruptured in 2010, over a million gallons poured into the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in America’s history. It took five years and over a billion dollars to clean it up.

Enbridge and their subsidiaries have had 115 spills since 2000. That averages one spill every two months for the last 23 years. According to Violation Tracker, they have been fined $284 million dollars, 99 percent of those penalties coming from environmental related offenses. Why would we ever allow a corporation with that record to undertake building a tunnel 400 feet below the surface of the Straits?

The MPSC ironically said there is a public need to protect the ecological, natural and cultural resources of the Great Lakes, yet offered up recommendations to reduce the risk of an “accidental rupture”. If the MPSC wanted to eliminate risk to the Great Lakes, it would have denied the permitting process.

The University of Michigan has done exhaustive studies on the Straits if a spill was to occur. Hundreds of miles of shoreline would be affected. Commercial ship traffic would be halted. Fishing and recreation would be devastated, and what of the drinking water? Their conclusion was the Straits of Mackinac is the worst place to have an oil spill.

Folks, we should have a sensible plan allowing a defined period of time to shut this pipeline down. It would give all parties the time to plan and execute alternatives, virtually eliminating all risk, not just mitigating it. We can move pipelines. We cannot move the Great Lakes. Right now is our opportunity to make a historical move and correct the errors of the past.

Hey, I am not against oil pipelines. I am not against carbon-based fuels, as we need them today while we make sensible decisions about converting to renewables over time. But I am against unnecessarily putting the mighty Great Lakes in jeopardy when there are alternatives presenting themselves today. We have one chance to get this right to preserve and protect the Great Lakes for generations. I hope the MPSC ruling is appealed, and that the Army Corp of Engineers will see the amount of risk in this tunnel project and existing Line 5 is unacceptable.

If not now, then when? If not us, then who? The future of the Great Lakes is in our hands. Agree or disagree? Let me know at gregawtry@awtry.com

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