Beth Wallace fights to protect the Great Lakes. She sees no way to respond if there was an oil spill from the Michigan pipeline carrying 540,000 barrels of crude oil each day.
This is part two of a three-part series on the importance of environmental protections for Michigan’s residents living around the infamous Line 5 oil pipeline.
MICHIGAN—She first began noticing the situation 10 years ago.
Beth Wallace, Ann Arbor-based National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes freshwater campaigns manager, started paying close attention to the Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 pipeline in 2010—the same year an Enbridge pipeline ruptured and led to 40 miles of spillage in the Kalamazoo River watershed.
Wallace and Jeff Alexander co-authored a report in 2012 called “Sunken Hazard.” The report brought to attention the age of Line 5—installed during President Dwight Eisenhower’s tenure, and before the first McDonald’s opened—and the disturbing effects should a major spill occur.
“If either of those pipelines leaked, the resulting oil slick would likely devastate some of the lakes’ most bountiful fisheries, wildlife refuges, municipal drinking water supplies and one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions: Mackinac Island,” the report stated. “A significant rupture would cause an Exxon-Valdez scale oil spill spreading through lakes Huron and Michigan, the heart of the largest freshwater seas in the world.”
Today, Wallace cites a heightened awareness of issues and integrity related to the line. She said that safety and resource protection, combined with more knowledge about Enbridge and its actions as a company, has resulted in a determination that “the most prudent thing is to remove the line from the Great Lakes as soon as possible.”
It is the same message she has pontificated for years.
“It’s a 70-year-old pipeline sitting in the open waters of the Great Lakes, in a really high-traffic shipping canal,” Wallace said. “Enbridge has no possible way to respond to a spill should one occur.”
Anne Woiwode, a Michigan Sierra Club co-chair and member for 40 years, said “none of us knew the existence” of issues associated with Line 5 until it was uncovered by Wallace and the NWF.
“I think that was when this hit home,” Woiwode said.
A Tainted Assessment And Questionable Analysis
In July 2015, a state task force co-chaired by former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette released recommendations about the pipeline’s future.
Such recommendations included a ban on heavier crude oil, as well as an independent analysis of Line 5’s environmental hazards.
About one year later, Calgary-based Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc. was chosen to examine pipeline alternatives, while Norway’s Det Norske Veritas (DNV) was selected to diagnose the risks of an oil spill.
At the time of the selections, Schuette called the Great Lakes “the crown jewels of Michigan” and said the state was “taking the next step forward to formally define the environmental and financial risks we face.”
However, the “independent” portion of study and analysis was in question due to Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc. consulting for another pipeline project in Minnesota. And it wasn’t until 2017 that the contractor Det Norske Veritas was terminated due to a DNV employee working on another Enbridge project.
“The evaluations of Line 5 were supposed to be independent, not tainted by outside opinions or information, but that’s not what happened,” Schuette said in June 2017. “Instead, our trust was violated and we now find ourselves without a key piece needed to fully evaluate the financial risks associated with the pipeline that runs through our Great Lakes.”
In that same month, a 337-page analysis stated that Line 5 could operate indefinitely. The report also noted that the shutdown of Line 5 would cost about $200 million, while 120 modeled spill scenarios estimated that a spill could cost between $100 and $200 million to clean up.
Legal Action Halted the Pipeline, But Only Temporarily
Schuette called for but ultimately never closed Line 5. In 2018 he lost the governor’s bid to Democrat Gretchen Whitmer.
In June of this year, with current Attorney General Dana Nessel at the helm, Enbridge notified state officials that damage was incurred to an anchor support on the east leg of the pipeline.
Both the east and west legs of the pipeline were temporarily deactivated.
On June 19, Nessel issued a statement calling Line 5 “a clear and present danger to our Great Lakes and to the millions of Michiganders who rely on those lakes for recreation, business and tourism.”
Whitmer echoed Nessel’s sentiment, asking Enbridge that same day to provide all information related to the damage—pictures, videos and engineering reports—within a 24-hour period.
Enbridge failed to do so, even unilaterally reopening the west leg of Line 5. It prompted Whitmer to send another letter to the company, requesting an immediate shutdown so the matter could be investigated and assessed, with necessary preventative measures put in place if necessary.
On June 22, Nessel filed motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The motions were filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, before Judge James. S. Jamo.
That same day, Enbridge responded to Whitmer’s request with what the Attorney General’s Office described as “brief reports…only a few pages long.” Many questions were left unanswered, Nessel stated, including how the original anchor damage occurred in the first place.
“To date, Enbridge has provided no explanation of what caused this damage and a woefully insufficient explanation of the current condition and safety of the pipeline as a result of this damage,” Nessel said June 22. “We cannot rely on Enbridge to act in the best interests of the people of this state so I am compelled to ask the court to order them to.”
On June 25, Jamo granted Nessel’s motion in a six-page order, requiring Enbridge to cease all transportation of oil and natural gas via its twin pipelines.
Aside from providing the state with sufficient information related to the damage, as well as the state’s inability to properly review or assess possible harms as a result, Jamo said the risk associated with the Great Lakes and businesses that benefit from them “would not only be substantial but also in some respects irreparable.”
But on Sept. 9, Jamo gave Enbridge the green light to continue normal operations. That decision was spurred by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which notified Enbridge that inspection records “did not identify any integrity issues” where the damage occurred on the pipeline’s east leg.
On Sept. 24 Jamo announced a resolution between the state and Enbridge in response to Nessel’s motion for injunction.
Hazardous to The Seas and ‘Dangerous’ to the Environment
Around 2015 the Sierra Club discovered an easement across the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan. It led to a federal appeals court ruling that Enbridge did not require a new permit to keep operating.
Wallace and other environmentalists and geological engineers acknowledge that Line 5 is a complex issue. However, as Wallace noted, discussions about the pipeline have taken place since Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and there have been inappropriate gaps for proper review and assessment for years.
Enbridge, she said, has had a “cavalier attitude” about hazardous prospects, and that the company provides a lack of technical information.
“Everybody in the region fully recognizes that the Great Lakes are our economic backbone and the way of life for our state,” she said. “It defines our state in many respects.”
Woiwode said of Enbridge’s response to environmental concerns: “It’s not just cavalier. I think it’s dangerous.”
She said that when Snyder was at the helm, expensive efforts took effect to document what was really going on with Line 5. She said Enbridge repeatedly rejected the issuance of information. Even the highest state officials made claims of the company not being forthright.
“That is a remarkable thing to hear from public officials,” Woiwode said. “They tend to couch their criticisms in much less inflammatory language, but it was exactly correct. … People have to take them at their word, despite the fact that they are known to have lied.”
Environmental protections are needed to help communities, especially those most in need. According to his website, Biden is interested in establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the U.S. Department of Justice to elevate a better environment for all.
This is a three-part series on the importance of environmental protections for Michigan’s residents living around the infamous Line 5 oil pipeline.
Read the first installment of the series here: ‘I Can See the Devastation’: Michigander Living Near Infamous Oil Pipeline Is Furious