Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are less than 72 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign and our independent journalism needs your help today.
If you value our work, please support Common Dreams. This is our hour of need.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Participant seen holding a sign at the protest. Climate activists with Stop the Money Pipeline held a rally in midtown Manhattan first at BlackRocks HQ and then march to JP Morgan Chase HQ, -two of the worlds biggest funders of climate destruction in their opinion- to urge the two companies to end their support for the dangerous proposed Line 3 pipeline project, and stop funding fossil fuels and forest destruction. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Participant seen holding a sign at the protest. Climate activists with Stop the Money Pipeline held a rally in midtown Manhattan first at BlackRocks HQ and then march to JP Morgan Chase HQ, -two of the worlds biggest funders of climate destruction in their opinion- to urge the two companies to end their support for the dangerous proposed Line 3 pipeline project, and stop funding fossil fuels and forest destruction. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Enbridge's Line 5 Needs to Be Shut Down to Protect the Great Lakes

Line 5, increasingly a threat to the Great Lakes and having repeatedly violated its Michigan issued permit, needs to be closed before it ruptures to the undying regret of both Canada and the United States.

Lana Pollack

 by Toronto Star

I was dismayed to read Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan pronounce his government’s "non-negotiable" opposition to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to close the damaged and corroding 68-year-old Enbridge Pipeline Line 5, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac. 

This pipeline poses an imminent threat to the shared waters that millions of Canadians and Americans depend upon for life, agriculture, commerce and recreation.

Currently operating in violation of a critical permit required by the State of Michigan, this pipeline poses an imminent threat to the shared waters that millions of Canadians and Americans depend upon for life, agriculture, commerce and recreation—and which both countries are committed to protect under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. 

I was honoured to serve for nine years as the U.S. section chair of the International Joint Commission (IJC), a Canadian-American organization created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to advise our respective governments on these shared resources. Having no association with IJC since retiring in 2019, the views expressed here are mine alone. 

I am speaking out because the danger of a breach of this age-compromised pipeline spanning a major shipping lane in the world’s largest freshwater body increases with every passing day.

For more than a century, the IJC has counselled both federal governments on the management and protection of our shared waters. With three Canadian and three U.S. commissioners, no IJC decision is made without binational agreement. IJC’s most important contributions to Canada and the United States are invariably based on science and thoughtful negotiations. These recommendations have frequently been informed by provincial, state, First Nations, Métis and municipal governments—each of which maintains its respective governing authority to protect the waters. 

It is in this tradition and in our nations’ shared interest in the long-term health of the Great Lakes that one would expect binational acknowledgement of these established facts: 

  • Examination of Pipeline 5 in the Straits of Mackinac shows thinning of the pipeline walls and a history of breaks in the lake bed anchors essential to keeping the pipeline tightly fixed to the lake bottom.  
  • A current jury-rigged system of bottomland attachments allows this bent and corroded pipeline to flex and float in ways it was never designed to tolerate — stresses that intensify the risk of a breach.
  • Violations of Enbridge’s pipeline permit, issued by the State of Michigan in 1953, include a history of nonreported damage from ships dragging anchors through the Straits of Mackinac.
  • Enbridge’s poor record on pipeline breaks includes the massive 2010 Line 6B rupture, which spilled almost a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, a tributary of Lake Michigan. Separately, Line 5 breaks outside its passage through the Straits have already spilled 1.1 million gallons. 
Undoubtedly there are hard adjustments ahead for economic segments reliant on dying markets for internal combustion engines and carbon dependent electricity. But only harm can come in trying to avoid difficult adjustments by denying reality.
 
Climate change, new energy technologies and dramatically changing cost equations all reveal evidence that Line 5 will be out of business within a decade. The elephant-in-the-room question is whether Michigan's order will force Enbridge to close this pipeline before it ruptures, or whether the company will use the courts to frustrate and delay so long as to pump its final thousands of barrels of Line 5 petroleum products into the Great Lakes, where it will remain for generations to come.
 
Canadians' commitment to the Great Lakes—especially Lake Huron with its beloved Georgian Bay—is no less ardent than that of the Americans. Canadians and Americans alike protest whenever Great Lakes waters rise too high or fall too low. How much louder and further would cries of betrayal fly if the lakes were to suffer irremediable harm from a Line 5 rupture that could have been prevented?
 
Line 5, increasingly a threat to the Great Lakes and having repeatedly violated its Michigan issued permit, needs to be closed before it ruptures to the undying regret of both Canada and the United States.

© 2020 TheStar.com

Lana Pollack

Lana Pollack is a former U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission, a Canadian-American organization that advises the respective governments on their shared resources. The views expressed in this piece are her own and do not reflect those of the IJC.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·


Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


Grave Warnings as Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Threatens 'Future of Voting Rights'

"Buckle up," implores one prominent legal scholar. "An extreme decision here could fundamentally alter the balance of power in setting election rules in the states and provide a path for great threats to elections."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo