Last month, oil spilled off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. During the first three hours the operator failed to shut down the line, spewing 132,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. The spill devastated wildlife and water quality, leaving the populated coastline mired in toxic chemicals.
Whenever an atrocious event happens, it attracts global headlines — but only for a moment. Meanwhile, thousands of overlooked pipelines corrode as they continue funneling crude oil through our water and fragile ecosystems. These ticking timebombs are ignored until one bursts.
California’s off-shore event harkens back to 2010 and the 17-hour delayed shutdown response by Enbridge during the Line 6b rupture. The company dumped over a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, poisoning residents and destroying wildlife habitat. Today, because of mismanagement, Enbridge holds the title for one of the worst inland oil spills in U.S. history.
Preceding that, Enbridge cemented its place as the single largest inland spill in the U.S. Their Line 3 spill in Grand Rapids, Minnesota flowed into Prairie River, a tributary of the Mississippi, and threatened drinking water for millions. California pipeline operator Amplify Energy Corp was familiar with pipeline problems. Before this failure, the owner faced near bankruptcy and regulatory violations.
The question isn’t if an oil pipeline will become a problem, but when.
News should result in alarms to immediately shut down Pipeline 5 in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. But we continue allowing this Canadian energy company and other polluters to regulate themselves and put profit over people and planet. Enbridge has been trespassing and pumping crude oil and natural gas liquids through the the Great Lakes since May 12, 2021.
Michigan’s governor issued a statement of disapproval recently in response to the Canadian government after it invoked Article VI of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty. The move — timed poorly considering the California spill — was a ploy to allow Enbridge to run crude oil indefinitely through the Straits of Mackinac. This delay, aimed to exploit the judicial system on behalf of a foreign oil company, is contemptible and erroneous.
Article IV of the Treaty is clear. It grants pipeline regulators the authority to do so with respect to “pipeline safety” and “environmental protection.” Michigan’s governor is within her legal rights to protect our state’s freshwater resources from Line 5 and the recreation economy that depends upon it.
In her statement, Gov. Whitmer shared that “So long as oil is flowing through the pipelines, there is a very real threat of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes.”
As business leaders whose existence depends on clean freshwater lakes, we see that threat extend to our local and regional economy.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, Michigan’s recreation economy “annually generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending and $7.5 billion in wages and salaries, and contributes to 232,000 direct jobs.”
Those jobs and communities depending upon them would disappear overnight should a spill like in California unfold here.
The stakes are too high. It’s not just our livelihoods, but our entire freshwater way of life on the line.
About the author: Beryl Skrocki of Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire is a founding member of the Great Lakes Business Network.