Critics of Line 5 debut broadcast ads with actor Jeff Daniels saying 'dangerous pipeline' needs to go

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Environmental opponents of Line 5 on Tuesday unveiled ads on TV and radio featuring actor and Michigan native Jeff Daniels lambasting it as "an aging, dangerous pipeline" that needs to be shut down for good.

The six-figure statewide ads, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, are a direct response to the numerous ads run for months by Line 5 owner Enbridge warning of the public of dire consequences if the pipeline is shut down at the behest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In a Zoom call with reporters, National Wildlife Federation officials said Enbridge is flouting the law, given that the governor has revoked the easement, and the misinformation campaign waged by the company has to be answered.

This is Enbridge's Mackinaw Station for Line 5.

"Jeff Daniels is a strong believer in our Pure Michigan way of life ... we know our Pure Michigan way of life is at risk because of the threat Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes," said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the federation. "NWF has been at the forefront of exposing the risks of Line 5 right from the very beginning."

Federation officials said the first run of the ads would be two weeks but more time and other ads are expected.

"This is part of a comprehensive effort to set the record straight on this so it's not just paid media and advertising," Shriberg said. "We know we won't match Enbridge dollar for dollar, but we also know that we've got the truth on our side."

Shriberg said the 68-year-old dual pipeline along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac is a "ticking time bomb." 

"It is possible, perhaps even probable, that we'd have catastrophic consequences for our drinking water, our wildlife and our economy if it were to happen," he said. "The pipeline is decades past its original lifespan."

In the TV ad, Daniels, who was not on the Zoom call, said, "A Line 5 oil spill would devastate our Great Lakes, our drinking water and economy. It's time to stand up for our Great Lakes. It's time to stand with Gov. Whitmer and shut down Line 5."

Enbridge officials said they believe a long-term solution is the construction of a tunnel to house the pipeline under the Straits, a move rejected by the Whitmer administration, environmental groups and Native American tribes. But preparation for construction of the tunnel continues under an agreement reached with the Snyder administration in late 2018.

In a statement, spokesman Ryan Duffy said Enbridge "continues to operate Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac safely and reliably while following the law." The pipeline provides "an affordable and reliable source of energy for Michigan, the region and Canada.

"Forcing the shutdown of Line 5 unnecessarily will create an energy shortage that will lead to a spike in energy and fuel prices, and at a vulnerable time for the people of Michigan and the regional economy by disrupting the supply of crude oil to 10 regional refineries.

The ads come weeks after the state-ordered deadline for the Canadian oil behemoth to close Line 5, which can carry up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids a day from the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula that traverse the Straits. 

Last November, Whitmer took away the pipeline's easement through the Straits of Mackinac and gave Enbridge six months, or until May 12, to close the line. The state filed suit in Ingham County Circuit Court to uphold the revocation. Enbridge also filed its own case in federal court and is currently in mediation.

Beth Wallace, the Great Lakes campaign manager for the federation, said despite the governor's actions, "Enbridge has forged ahead as if it's business as usual and faces millions in fines as a result."

Whitmer has threatened to levy the fines, but could only do so if a judge finds in favor of the state. Enbridge has argued that Line 5 is regulated by federal pipeline officials and can't be closed by the state.  

Shriberg said Enbridge, days before the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010, claimed the pipeline was safe. "We know from experience we can't rely on Enbridge to tell the truth, and the whole region around the Kalamazoo River suffered from it.

"We don't want the same for the Great Lakes," he said. "Michigan can't trust Enbridge. That's the bottom line."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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Twitter:@leonardnfleming