Demonstrators ask Whitmer to shut down Line 5

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Chanting "no oil tunnel," demonstrators gathered outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office on Monday to hand over 14,039 petition signatures, asking her to shut down the Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

"I love my beautiful lakes," Jackie Schmitz of Middleville said. " And I don't want to see them poisoned."

Organized by the environmental group Oil and Water Don't Mix, more than 50 people walked from the Capitol to the George W. Romney Building, which houses Whitmer's office. Outside the Romney building, they presented a binder full of the petition signatures to Kara Cook, Whitmer's energy and environment policy adviser.

Demonstrators gather outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office in downtown in Lansing on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, to deliver 14,039 petition signatures asking the governor to shut down Line 5.

The petition says that instead of "leaving a vulnerable and hazardous oil pipeline operating in the Mackinac Straits for years," Whitmer should "take action now to decommission Line 5."

The demonstration occurred two days before Whitmer's second State of the State address on Wednesday. Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked a state court for an order to shut down and decommission Line 5 because its 67-year-old easement is a public nuisance and violates public trust and environmental laws. 

Sean McBrearty, Michigan campaign organizer for Clean Water Action, told reporters that the demonstrators are hoping to hear that Whitmer will take the "necessary steps to address climate change" and "shut down" the pipeline.

Environmentalists fear a spill from Line 5 in the straits, where the 67-year-old dual span transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and natural gas liquids.

Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, is advancing plans to build a tunnel to house the pipeline in the Straits. This month, a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling reaffirmed Enbridge's right to move forward with plans for tunnel construction.

But McBrearty said Monday the "whole pipeline needs to go."

"The pipeline crosses over 400 different water crossings in Michigan," McBrearty said. "So a 4.5-mile tunnel is a 4.5-mile Band-Aid on a 645-mile problem."

But Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the company is seeing "widespread support" for its tunnel project with 18 counties passing resolutions in support of the project.

"Investing $500 million into the state to ensure security of energy supply and reduce risk to the Straits to virtually zero, Enbridge remains committed to moving forward with the tunnel project, which could be under construction by 2021 and in service by 2024," Duffy added.

Enbridge animation of potential tunnel under Straits of Mackinac

Cook, the member of the Whitmer administration who accepted the petition signatures, noted that the state Department of Natural Resources is doing a comprehensive review of Enbridge's 1953 easement for the Straits of Mackinac segment.

Whitmer, a Democrat, is assessing her options when it comes to the pipeline, Cook said.

"The governor really appreciates all of the work that you guys are doing on this issue. And I will make sure that she gets those," Cook told the demonstrators of the petition signatures.