Opinion: Line 5 is too risky for Great Lakes

Jim Carruthers and Will Lytle
Oil pipeline operator Enbridge moves under the Mackinac Bridge on their way to inspect their controversial Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac in this June 8, 2016 file photo. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is suing an Escanaba-based company whose boat allegedly dropped an anchor this month that ruptured a pair of power cables and dented Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, his office said Thursday.

Northern Michigan does not want an oil pipeline near or under the Great Lakes. The risk is far greater than any unproven rewards.

In recent months, Enbridge, the multibillion-dollar Canadian corporation that owns the Line 5 oil pipeline, has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a Michigan public relations campaign to make it look like there is a groundswell of support for the proposed Line 5 oil tunnel, especially in northern Michigan. They also have been pushing unsubstantiated claims that Line 5 supports millions of dollars in jobs, millions of dollars in taxes and that Michigan’s economy depends on it.

Last week's court decision that says the tunnel deal Enbridge got from the 2018 lame-duck Legislature is legal doesn’t change the fact that Line 5 remains a dangerous pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac and beyond.

Let’s be clear. The Line 5 oil pipeline threatens Michigan jobs, families, businesses, investment and the Great Lakes. It is a Canadian oil shortcut through our state, and every day that rusty pipeline continues to borrow on its 67-year lifespan is another risk. 

Let us also be clear that the threat comes from the entire length of the pipeline that spans our state, and not just the five miles of twin pipes bouncing around 250 feet below the surface of the Straits where Enbridge wants to lock in a tunnel sometime in the next 10-15 years.

Enbridge has focused a lot of its public relations and lobbying on winning over conservative county commissions, and it has been working. The company has paid at least $63,000 to the Michigan Association of Counties for sponsorships and advertisements since the start of 2018, according to the association’s own disclosures.

Then a pro-tunnel resolution began circulating at commission meetings, each time with little to no warning or public discussion. When word of this resolution got out in Grand Traverse County dozens of people showed up with almost no notice and voiced overwhelming opposition, forcing the commission to delay passage. Hardly proof of a groundswell of northern Michigan support.

There is plenty of evidence that northern Michigan does not want this pipeline. Sixty-nine local governments, including Traverse City, and every tribal government in Michigan have passed resolutions supporting the removal or decommissioning of Line 5. Those resolutions actually came from residents, not oil industry public relations pros. And according to last year’s Independent Risk Analysis report, 95% of the 45,000 public comments received were opposed to Line 5 in the Straits.

There is tremendous public support for clean energy and concern about climate change in northern Michigan. Traverse City and Petoskey passed the first community-wide 100% renewable energy goals in the state. The clean energy economy is growing fast, and people here want to be part of it and reap the benefits. Oil pipelines are fossil fuel infrastructure of the past, and allowing Enbridge to spend years boring under the Great Lakes to build a tunnel would keep Michigan waters, jobs and communities at risk for decades longer.

The governor’s Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force is uncovering alternatives to the U.P.’s reliance on Line 5 propane, contrary to Enbridge’s claims that Line 5 is the only way to affordably get propane to the Upper Peninsula. Let’s let that task force finish its work and not make unsubstantiated claims about the supposed benefits of that Canadian oil pipeline and tunnel.

We can't ignore the well-documented potential for massive and permanent damage to Michigan and the Great Lakes from an oil spill, like the near miss last year when a ship’s anchor nearly severed the oil pipeline in the Straits. That’s the real risk.

Jim Carruthers is the mayor of Traverse City. Will Lytle is mayor pro-tem of Hancock.