Our expert panel was back to answer questions about the work to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline before it ruptures into the Great Lakes. Watch the recording here.
Enbridge, a Canadian corporation with a history of ignoring warnings that caused one of the country's largest pipeline spills, owns the pipeline. Please read a summary of the webinar below the video.
Our expert panel includes:
- Riyaz Kanji, founding member and Directing Attorney of Kanji & Katzen – representing the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
- Christopher Clark, Supervising Senior Attorney, Earthjustice – representing Bay Mills Indian Community
- Sean McBrearty, Campaign Coordinator, Oil & Water Don’t Mix and Legislative and Policy Director at Michigan Clean Water Action
This webinar Q&A session is hosted by FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood and moderated by Senior Legal Advisor Skip Pruss.
00:00 Welcome and Overview from Liz Kirkwood and Skip Pruss
03:36 Riyaz Kanji - Brief litigation update of cases against Line 5
20:53 Sean McBrearty - What are the risks and failure modes of Line 5
33:28 Christopher Clark - What is the cultural and spiritual significance of the Great Lakes?
36:36 Questions and Answers from the panel
47:13 Why the proposed "Great Lakes Tunnel" is NOT a solution
1:00:00 What can you do? List of action steps that everyone can do to help.
TAKE ACTON ITEMS mentioned in the webinar
This webinar is hosted by Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water), a Great Lakes water law and policy center, along with a panel of experts discussing the legal, environmental, and political issues surrounding the Line 5 oil pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy.
The webinar aims to address questions from the public and provide detailed information on the status of Line 5, the potential environmental risks it poses, and the ongoing legal battles. The panel also discusses the implications of shutting down Line 5, including how it would affect the supply of propane and other fuels, the alternatives for transporting oil, and the broader economic and environmental considerations.
The ongoing legal battles in Wisconsin and Michigan concerning the Line 5 pipeline involve complex litigation surrounding environmental concerns, tribal sovereignty, and jurisdictional disputes. A key legal decision came from a federal district court in Wisconsin, which found that Enbridge's operation of Line 5 was a trespass on Bad River Band tribal lands and an imminent threat of environmental catastrophe. The court ordered that the pipeline be shut down by June 16, 2026, providing a firm date for decommissioning.
However, the court also set up triggers for a potential earlier shutdown tied to the spring flooding season, which could require a quicker response to shut down the pipeline if certain conditions are met. This is particularly pressing as the Bad River has migrated within dangerous proximity to the pipeline, and further erosion could expose and undermine the pipeline, leading to a spill. Enbridge has appealed this order to delay the proposed shutdown, while the Bad River Band has appealed to shut down the pipeline sooner. The case is now in the hands of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, with briefings expected to be completed by early December.
The legal arguments being hashed out include invoking a 1977 treaty between Canada and the U.S., which Enbridge and the Canadian government argue preempts any attempts to shut down the pipeline or impose environmental protections. There is also a dispute over whether the Federal Pipeline Safety Act overrides state and tribal efforts to regulate the pipeline's operation.
Additionally, the jurisdictional question of whether these cases belong in state or federal court has created a delay. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, is expected to resolve this jurisdictional issue, potentially by spring, which could lead to more rapid developments in the state's litigation to shut down Line 5. If the court confirms that the case belongs in state court, it is set up to move quickly due to extensive expert testimony and factual development already in place.
The legal proceedings are seen as critical junctures that could determine the fate of Line 5, and there is a strong sense of anticipation for decisive rulings that could impact the operation of the pipeline.
The panel also addresses the potential impacts of shutting down Line 5. They report that according to Enbridge's experts, a Line 5 shutdown would lead to a minor increase in fuel costs but would prevent an environmental catastrophe. There's an emphasis on the importance of considering alternative fuel transport methods and planning for a possible shutdown to avoid a disaster like the Kalamazoo River oil spill.
The webinar also touches on the federal versus state court jurisdictional issues that have stalled legal proceedings, but there's hope for progress in the near future as appellate courts are expected to resolve these questions. There's a clear message that while legal battles are time-consuming, the outcome is nearing critical decisions that could determine the pipeline's fate.
The panelists proceed to address various technical and environmental concerns related to Line 5, an oil pipeline crossing the Great Lakes region. Here's a summary of the questions and answers provided:
Question: What are the risks associated with the operation and potential failure of Line 5?
Answer Summary: There are multiple risks associated with Line 5, including the possibility of a spill due to its aging infrastructure, which is beyond its intended lifespan of 50 years. The pipeline, now over 70 years old, crosses over 400 waterways and is at risk of anchor strikes, which have already caused damage. The protective coatings have worn away in places, exposing the steel to potential corrosion. Furthermore, Enbridge's history of negligence, including the Line 6B oil spill, exacerbates concerns about Enbridge's ability to manage the pipeline safely.
Question: How effective are the monitoring systems Enbridge put in place to reduce the chance of an anchor strike?
Answer Summary: While Enbridge has installed cameras in the Straits of Mackinac to monitor vessel traffic and ensure anchors are not dropped, the panelists criticize the system's effectiveness. Factors such as night, fog, unpredictable weather, and human error limit the system's reliability. The monitoring system is seen more as a public relations effort than a genuine safety measure.
Question: Can the underwater currents affect the pipeline, and how would they influence the outcome of a pipeline failure?
Answer Summary: The currents in the Straits of Mackinac are unpredictable and could change daily, posing a risk to the pipeline's integrity. In case of a pipeline failure, modeling by the University of Michigan suggests that a significant oil spill could impact over 700 miles of shoreline and 27,000 square miles of lake surface. The currents could also potentially bend the pipeline, as was indicated in 1953 engineering studies, if they exceeded certain speeds.
The conversation continues to focus on the technicalities of Line 5's operation, the potential environmental impacts of its failure, and the legal and regulatory aspects surrounding its operation. There's a strong emphasis on the need for proactive measures to prevent a major environmental disaster and to transition away from fossil fuel dependency.
Question: What is the physical, cultural, and spiritual significance of the Great Lakes waters? Are there any archaeological findings?
Answer Summary: The Great Lakes hold deep cultural, spiritual, historical, and economic significance to the Bay Mills and other tribal nations. They are seen as the center of creation for the Anishinaabe people. The area is rich with cultural sites and resources, including burial sites and artifacts that record thousands of years of history. Commercial fishing in these waters is vital for the livelihood of many households in the Bay Mills Indian Community.
Question: Who would pay for the cleanup and new drinking water sources if Line 5 fails?
Answer Summary: There is a troubling scenario where Michigan taxpayers might end up bearing the costs of cleanup in the event of a Line 5 spill because the subsidiaries of Enbridge may not have sufficient financial assurance to cover the damages. The cleanup costs are estimated to far exceed the current financial assurances in place, and no amount of money can restore the Great Lakes entirely after a major oil spill.
Question: How does the US Army Corps of Engineers' recent decision not to consider the entirety of Line 5 in their environmental review process affect the situation?
Answer Summary: The Army Corps is conducting an environmental review for the proposed tunnel under the Straits but, despite significant public encouragement to consider the entire line, is only focusing on a four-mile segment rather than its entire length. Advocates argue for a more expansive review, considering the implications across the pipeline's entire length, particularly given the risks to the aging infrastructure.
Question: Is Canada cooperating with the United States to close Line 5?
Answer Summary: Canada is not cooperating with the U.S. to shut down Line 5 but has been actively pressuring the U.S. to keep the pipeline operational, even invoking a 1977 treaty. There is significant disappointment with the Canadian government's approach, which is seen as prioritizing the fossil fuel industry over environmental protection and indigenous rights. Activists suggest that Canadian citizens need to pressure their government to reconsider its stance on Line 5.
Question: Why not support building the tunnel while litigating the shutdown of Line 5?
Answer Summary: The tunnel is not a solution because of the significant engineering and safety concerns. There are risks of leaks within the tunnel, creating a highly flammable and explosive environment. This is an untested design, and there are also objections due to the need to transition away from fossil fuel infrastructure. Furthermore, the tunnel does not address the risks presented by Line 5 along its entire length and would not protect indigenous communities from environmental impacts.
The tunnel plan is flawed for the following reasons:
- Engineering and Safety Concerns: The proposed tunnel design is untested and poses significant engineering and safety risks. Experts worry that a leak within the tunnel would create a highly flammable and explosive environment due to the accumulation of crude oil and natural gas liquids in an enclosed space. This could result in a high-temperature fire compromising the tunnel’s structure, leading to collapse or meltdown.
- Inadequacy of the Tunnel Solution: The tunnel does not solve the broader risks presented by Line 5 across its entire length. It would simply trade one set of risks for another without addressing the existing threats along the pipeline’s route, especially along 400 water crossings.
- The Current Transition to Clean Energy: Supporting the tunnel would be counterproductive to the transition towards clean energy. Investing in fossil fuel infrastructure like the tunnel would delay the necessary shift away from oil dependence because of global warming.
- Cultural and Environmental Impacts: The tunnel does not mitigate the environmental risks and impacts on indigenous rights and cultural sites. These considerations are especially important given that environmental catastrophes often disproportionately affect indigenous communities.
- Financial and Corporate Commitment Questions: Enbridge's genuine commitment to constructing the tunnel is questioned. It has petitioned to shorten the depreciation schedules for its pipeline assets, which raises doubts about its long-term intentions and whether it is using the tunnel proposal to maintain the status quo.
- Tunnel as a Diversion: The tunnel proposal, without a commitment from Enbridge's board or up-to-date cost estimates, seems to be a tactic to continue with the current operation indefinitely rather than provide a genuine solution to the problem.
The panelists argue that these factors collectively suggest that the tunnel proposal is not a viable or responsible solution and would not address the fundamental issues associated with Line 5. They express a clear stance against the tunnel project and emphasize the importance of preventing the risks that the existing pipeline presents to the Great Lakes and surrounding communities.
Question: What might be the significance of the Enbridge parent board not approving the tunnel and its financing?
Answer Summary: There is skepticism regarding Embridge’s commitment to actually constructing the tunnel. Its petition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to shorten the depreciation schedules for pipeline assets raises questions about its long-term intentions. The concerns are that proposals like the tunnel are tactics to maintain the status quo and avoid dealing with the environmental risks posed by the current operation of Line 5.
Question: Why couldn't Canada run the pipeline through its own territory?
Answer Summary: It is technically possible for Canada to route the pipeline through its territory, but it chose not to do so to avoid shouldering the environmental burdens. Most of the oil and natural gas liquids from Line 5 are used in Ontario and Quebec, with a small amount used for heating in Michigan and Wisconsin. The distribution of benefits and environmental risks between the U.S. and Canada is uneven, with the U.S. bearing more environmental risks.
What People Can Do To Help #ShutDownLine5
The panelists then discuss what actions individuals can take to address the situation with Line 5. They encourage contacting state and federal lawmakers, sharing social media posts about Line 5, and engaging with organizations working on this issue. They emphasize the importance of spreading awareness and influencing policy to prevent an environmental catastrophe and protect the Great Lakes.
In the concluding part of the webinar on Enbridge Line 5, the discussion shifts toward what actions individuals can take and the importance of public engagement:
Action Steps for Public Engagement:
- Email State and Federal Lawmakers: Encourage the shutdown of Line 5 and elevate key reports and findings to them.
- Re-share Line 5 Social Media Posts: Use social media platforms to increase awareness and pressure on decision-makers. Follow OWDM on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Threads, TikTok.
- Sign Petitions: There are multiple petitions, like the one to President Biden, asking for the revocation of the Line 5 permit.
- Canadian Involvement: Since a significant portion of Line 5's products are used in Canada, Canadian engagement is crucial. A petition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is mentioned.
- Volunteer for Organizations: Organizations like Oil & Water Don't Mix are looking for volunteers to help with their campaigns.
- Participate in Photo Petitions: Sierra Club and other organizations are collecting photos to show solidarity against Line 5.
- Write Letters to Editors: Use tools provided by advocacy groups to draft and send letters to local newspapers.
- Engage in Relational Organizing: Encourage friends and family to get involved, which is a powerful tool for grassroots movements.
- Education and Solidarity: It's essential to educate peers about the issue and show solidarity with the tribes and Michigan state in their fight against Line 5. Share this page using the buttons below.
- Share Resources and Toolkits: Share educational resources and toolkits provided by organizations to help people take informed action.
Visit the FLOW Line 5 Toolkit for more actions you can take.