Recently, a court ruled that fossil fuel giant Enbridge must shut down a section of the Line 5 oil pipeline that runs through the territory of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa by June 2026.
The band has been fighting a legal battle against Enbridge since 2019 to have the pipeline removed from its watershed. Enbridge has been found guilty of trespassing on Bad River Band territory since 2013.
This order is an important step toward permanently closing down this dangerous pipeline. Line 5, which is 70 years old, has had numerous safety violations and has been documented in a state of ill repair. The entire pipeline poses an immense threat to the health of the Great Lakes, especially in highly sensitive areas such as Bad River (a.k.a. Mashkiiziibii/Medicine River), an important tributary to Lake Superior, and the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
Unsurprisingly, Enbridge is trying to downplay the risk of a Line 5 rupture into the Great Lakes. However, recent spring flooding events have caused alarming rates of erosion along the Medicine River, bringing the pipeline dangerously close to open water and potential strikes from fast-moving debris. Heavy summer rainfall events could further compromise the pipeline’s safety.
There have also been several close calls in the Straits of Mackinac. Notably, Line 5 was struck and damaged in 2018 by a 12,000-pound anchor and again in 2019 by cables being used by nearby vessels.
As part of Enbridge’s ongoing efforts to continue operating this deteriorating pipeline, it is attempting to reroute 65 kilometres of pipeline around the Mashkiiziibii Chippewa’s territory. However, this proposal ignores the band’s call to have the pipeline removed from the entire Mashkiiziibii watershed. This plan also puts even more of the watershed at risk because it is situated further upstream from the current route.
Enbridge has been found guilty of trespassing on Bad River Band territory since 2013, an important step toward permanently closing down this dangerous pipeline, writes @michLsamar @envirodefence #Line5 #GreatLakes
The reroute is a dangerous and false solution. It would cross 186 bodies of freshwater that flow into Lake Superior. Horizontal directional drilling is the method that would be used to bury the new section of pipeline, a method that often leads to drilling fluid leaks.
In Minnesota, horizontal directional drilling was recently used to complete the Line 3 pipeline and now more than half of the water bodies Line 3 crosses have been polluted with drilling fluid and at least four aquifer breaches have occurred.
In March, the United States Environmental Protection Agency identified nearly 200 issues with the proposed rerouting and said the State of Wisconsin had failed to fully analyze the risk of spills, tribal resources and treaty rights, the effects of climate change and whether the project would violate state and tribal water quality standards.
Farther downstream, Enbridge is trying to convince decision-makers to allow the corporation to blast a dangerous tunnel through the ecologically sensitive Straits of Mackinac. For the Anishinaabeg, who have inhabited this area for over 13,000 years, the straits are also culturally sacred and must be protected with utmost regard.
This tunnel would be the first of its kind in the world. It is absurd to experiment with the world’s largest surface freshwater system.
Independent experts have raised serious environmental and feasibility concerns about the tunnel plan. The proposed tunnel will run through ecologically significant coastal wetlands. Furthermore, more than 75 per cent of the tunnel area they plan to drill through is in “very poor” or “poor” quality rock conditions, which increases the risk of construction instability.
And frighteningly, there is also a risk of explosions due to the presence of methane gas on the lakebed. An explosion on the lakebed of the Great Lakes is a horrifying thought.
The reality is that we can meet our crude oil energy needs without Line 5. The majority of the crude oil now moving through Line 5 can be redirected to another existing pipeline: Line 78. This solution ensures all regions served by Line 5 will adequately meet their energy needs, and only requires minor retrofits and retooling of the existing pipeline network.
Enbridge’s claim that the Mainline system is at maximum capacity contradicts its own data. According to data submitted by Enbridge to the Canadian Energy Regulator, roughly 650,000 barrels per day of crude oil are travelling to Sarnia, Ont., through both Line 5 and Line 78. The majority of that could be transported by Line 78 alone, with just one to two rail trains a day and/or less than one marine tanker a day, on routes already moving crude oil.
Indigenous nations and Great Lakes advocates have been raising the alarm bells for over a decade about this ecological disaster in the making. During that time, Enbridge has had years to work with the impacted parties and develop a plan to shut down Line 5. Instead, it continues to delay action to protect the Great Lakes and distracts decision-makers with false solutions.
In the face of a climate breakdown, we cannot afford projects such as the tunnel or reroute if we hope to limit warming and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Demand for oil and gas is expected to peak by the late 2020s to early 2030s. By then, both the reroute and tunnel will become sunk investments and stranded assets. Devastatingly, both projects will have left irreparable scars on the land and communities.
We must act in the best interest of the Great Lakes and the more than 40 million people who rely on them. Both Canada and the United States must support a planned and permanent shutdown of Line 5.
The Great Lakes are essential for all life in this part of the world.
Line 5 is not.
Michelle Woodhouse is the water program manager at Environmental Defence and a Métis-British Canadian water protector. Her Métis roots come from a place called manitou sakhahigan (Lac Ste. Anne, Alta.). Michelle leads a campaign to shut down the Line 5 pipeline and works alongside Indigenous nations and settler allies to protect the Great Lakes for the seven generations to come. Michelle sees water as a living relation and is passionate about environmental justice and climate justice.