I just returned from an Enbridge eviction party on May 12-13. People gathered at the Straits of Mackinac to enforce the state of Michigan’s orders to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. The 70-year-old pipe was placed at the bottom of the straits separating Lake Michigan from Lake Huron in l953. The state says the pipe is a risk. Enbridge says it won’t shut it down, the state has no jurisdiction to revoke the easement.
Hundreds of people gathered on the shores of Lake Michigan, following an international press conference, where both Canadian and U.S. citizens, tribal nations and businesses, called for Enbridge to abide by the law. In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to revoke and terminate Enbridge’s 1953 easement with the state — effective May 12 — while giving Enbridge the same deadline to decommission the line.
In its rebuke, Enbridge claims that pipeline jurisdiction is held by the federal government. Michigan argues that the state’s jurisdiction stems from issuing the easement to Enbridge in 1953. Additionally, while the Great Lakes are international waters, the lakebed under the Straits belongs to the state and tribes according to the federal law.
So far, 28 entities have thrown in their support for the state’s jurisdiction, including Four Tribes (Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians); the Great Lakes Business Network and six environmental organizations;. plus 16 states and Washington, D.C. and six other state attorney generals.
“Enbridge’s argument that the people of Michigan, having once said ‘Yes’ to a pipeline 68 years ago, have no further say in the matter is both absurd and antidemocratic.” Whitmer commented in response to Enbridge.
“The Line 5 dual pipelines that run through the Straits of Mackinac are a ticking time bomb that threaten the health and safety of Michiganders and our Great Lakes,” Whitmer added. She noted that operations of the Line 5 pipeline after May 13 would be considered trespass, and the profits derived after that time would belong to the state. The Bay Mills Tribe, and other signatories to the 1836 treaty, also oppose the pipeline, and on May l0, the Bay Mills Indian Community passed an ordinance banishing Enbridge from its territory.
“Enbridge has weaponized our traditional culture as a way to influence issues around Line 5," noted President Whitney Gravelle of the Bay Mills Executive Council. "Thankfully the pipeline segment beneath the Straits has not yet burst. But In 1999, the pipeline leaked 226,000 gallons of crude and natural gas liquid, forcing 500 residents to evacuate,” he added. “Line 5 has spilled 33 times since 1968, leaking over 1.1 million gallons of oil. And those are just the documented spills.”
Line 5 under the Straits carries 540,000 barrels of oil per day. However, the pipeline has been struck by boat anchors and other equipment in recent years. Last year, the line was shut down temporarily after an anchor support sustained damage.
Michigan has become increasingly concerned with the risk of the pipeline, the prolonged costs and damages from the Enbridge Kalamazoo Spill of 2010 (cleanup -- over $ 1 billion), and the deep concern that the money is going back to Canada. Enbridge put any cleanup of the Straits at $1.8 billion. Michigan State University did another assessment and found possible costs of $45 billion. And there is no assurance that Enbridge has this money.
There’s a lesson or two for Minnesota counties to be learned from Michigan: One, Minnesota might want to check on how we get Enbridge to clean up its pipeline messes before it goes bankrupt. However, damages from an oil spill, in terms of life and Anishinaabe people, are unquantifiable.
Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.