March 22, 2017

Line 5 Letter to the Editor, Detroit News, March 15, 2017



By Pat Egan, Emeritus Member of Sierra Club's Executive Committee

As a resident of the Upper Peninsula I need to take issue with a mis-guided and fact-challenged essay published here by Doug Stockwell of the Operating Engineers regarding the submerged old pipeline crossing under the Straits of Mackinac, and new job-ending pipelines in SE Michigan.

Mr. Stockwell calls a group of fact-finders, retired engineers, chemists, business people and serious academics “alarmists. “, connoting a cartoonish Chicken-Little. These are people who recognize the hazard of a 63-year old pipeline crossing lakes and tributaries in Michigan, and crossing under water and ice in the highest risk setting in North America. The threat of that pipeline is not just to clean drinking water, but to thousands of jobs and businesses and whole communities. 

Facts from Enbridge are hard to come by in any discussion of their Line 5. That is because the company does not have to publicly reveal what it is transporting in its pipelines, where it is eventually destined, and for what purpose. Not even the Operating Engineers know. Other, non-Enbridge facts are easier to know. We know about the currents in the Straits – twice the original design assumptions. We know about a clean up “success” of 35 to 40 percent. We know about metal fatigue and mussels. We know about easement promises and promises broken. We know that this pipeline was not designed to last over 60 years.

The Operating Engineers say that shutting off the risks posed by this aged, clunky pipeline jeopardizes warm homes, jobs and economic development.  The economic devastation of a significant spill in the Straits is obvious, it is real, and it trumps any number of jobs that Line 5 oil makes in Michigan.

We in the Upper Peninsula have several sources for home heating oils and gasses. We will live the same lives we are now living the day after the State of Michigan realizes its responsibility and shuts down oil transport in a pipeline that has been, and presently is, violating legal easement agreements

Enbridge has multi-billion dollar revenue every financial quarter. The Canadian-based company keeps that revenue unless it is fined, as it has been many times, or has to pay damages for its many spills. 

The Michigan Operating Engineers benefit from pipeline maintenance and construction, and yes, pipeline catastrophes. They do not mention the jobbers and truckers who will lose their jobs when new pipelines are built in South East Michigan. They would also suffer with the rest of us if businesses and the entire tourism economy of Michigan takes an ink-stained hit when oil blackens the Straits.

The people of Michigan are taking all the risk with this obsolete and dangerous pipeline. The oil Line 5 carries to a Detroit refinery is about 3% of its load, and that refinery has almost 90 percent of its supply from other sources. Instead of defending this high-risk pipeline, the Operating Engineers of Michigan should become “alarmists” as well, and recognize the significant hazard that is Line 5.