WATER

The State of Michigan Must Permanently
Decommission Enbridge’s Line 5
Fact Sheet • April 2015

T

wo pipelines collectively known as Line 5 run under the Straits of Mackinac,
a waterway joining Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.1 Any sort of leakage
from Line 5, which carries light crude oil and natural gas liquids,2 would spew
toxins into the Great Lakes, the largest cluster of freshwater lakes in the world3
and the drinking water source for over 35 million people.4 The Lakes contain
roughly 20 percent of the global surface freshwater supply and are home to 10
percent of the U.S. population, 30 percent of Canada’s population and various
species of flora and fauna, several of which are endangered or threatened.5 Line
5 poses a significant threat to the Great Lakes and Michigan.
Line 5 is a public trust issue
for both the Great Lakes
and the State of Michigan.
Line 5 was built in 1953,6 before a law known as the Great
Lakes Submerged Lands Act was adopted.7 Now, because of
the Act, if a company sought to build a pipeline on the bottom
of the Great Lakes, it would have to go through a permitting
process to ensure that the pipeline’s use of the Lakes would
not pose a threat to the waters or to the public’s use of the
waters — such as fishing or navigation.8 Line 5 has not had
to get approval for its use and for its occupation of the Great
Lakes bottomlands. 
A hydrocarbon release in the Straits of Mackinac could
have significant social, environmental and economic
impacts. One out of every five jobs in Michigan is linked to
the high quality and quantity of fresh water,9 and, according
to Michigan State University Extension, “Tourism is one of
Michigan’s largest income industries based on the billions of
travelers’ dollars spent, generation of state and local taxes,
and the nearly 150,000 jobs it creates.”10 Even Governor
Snyder’s Pure Michigan tourism campaign boasts about the
magnificence of the Great Lakes, which brought in $1.2 billion
in visitor spending in 2013.11
Agriculture, fisheries and shipping/transportation also depend
on the Great Lakes,12 which deliver over 50 billion gallons of

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water daily for industrial, agricultural and municipal uses.13
In 2009, the Lakes were linked to over 1.5 million jobs,14 with
Michigan accounting for 35 percent of the jobs.15

17 years.23 Just last summer, Enbridge’s Line 5 was found in
violation of the spacing requirements of its 1953 easement,
due to missing support structures.24

A 2014 University of Michigan study determined that
the Straits of Mackinac are the “worst possible place”
for a contaminant release, such as an oil spill, in the
Great Lakes.16 Every few days, the strong currents — which
at peak volumetric transport can be more than 10 times
greater than the flow of Niagara Falls — switch bi-directionally from eastward to westward.17 Depending on the course
of movement at the time of a “contaminant release,” contaminants could be “transported eastward into Lake Huron
or westward into Lake Michigan — and may move back and
forth through the Straits several times.”18

One of the worst and most expensive oil spills in U.S.
history came from an Enbridge pipeline failure in July
2010.25 Line 6b ruptured near Talmadge Creek, a tributary
of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, spilling as much as 1 million
gallons of tar sands crude. The spill devastated sensitive ecosystems and impacted people living in nearby communities,
and the inland cleanup cost about $1 billion.26 According to a
sample of Michigan residents, over one third of people living
in impacted communities relocated due to local air pollution.
Locals exposed to the spill reported troubling neurological,
respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.27

Within 20 days of a spill or leak, contaminants could cover
large ground — diffusing material both southeasterly to Rogers City in Lake Huron and westerly to Beaver Island in Lake
Michigan.19 A contaminant release in the Straits could severely
impair the surrounding ecologically sensitive areas.20

Line 6b was aging infrastructure, much like Line 5, having
been built in the 1960s.28 The National Transportation Safety
Board (NTSB) attributed the spill to pipeline corrosion and
“pervasive organizational failures.”29 According to the NTSB,
Enbridge was aware that the section of the pipeline that
ultimately burst was vulnerable, yet it failed to act on the
information.30

Enbridge has a questionable track record. In general,
pipelines pose huge risks of spills. Line 5’s aging condition
only amplifies the risk. In 2013, a filmed dive along Line 5,
sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, discovered
undetected “structural defects,”21 and in December 2014, a
“pinhole” leak was detected in the Upper Peninsula.22
From 2005 to 2013, Enbridge spilled or released roughly 91,855
barrels of hydrocarbon products, such as crude oil and natural
gas, around the country. From 1996 to 2013, the number of
reportable* spills, leaks and releases more than doubled, from
54 to 117, with a total of 1,244 reportable incidents for those
* According to Addendum to Enbridge’s 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, on page 2, a reportable spill, leak or release is one that is
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Conclusion
The Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act is a keystone principle
of Michigan’s public trust doctrine.31 Yet decision makers in
Michigan allow the continuation of Line 5 and its occupation
of the bottomlands. Allowing Line 5 to continue operating
puts the Great Lakes and the region’s environment, public
health and economy at risk, solely for the benefit of a company’s profits. Piping millions of barrels of toxic hydrocarbons
throughout the Straits is not in Michigan’s public interest.
Line 5 must be permanently decommissioned. Allowing this
ticking time bomb to stay in operation would be to the detriment of the Great Lakes and of the countless people whose
livelihoods depend on them.

Endnotes 

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