What you should know.
By the Upper Peninsula Propane Research Team
For 10 years citizens and experts investigated risks to our Great Lakes from the aging Canadian Line 5 pipeline. Suddenly, with the pipeline’s easement revoked and eviction date looming, we are seeing a stream of safety claims, claims that have already been investigated and found to be false.
If you care about clean water, you know that on land Line 5 crosses 400 waterways flowing into our Great Lakes and rivers.
Regardless of land ownership, when a pipe leaks, spilled oil travels with the water. Enbridge lost its easement because it failed to maintain adequate safety precautions. Since 1968, Line 5 failed at least 33 times on land, spilling 1.1 million gallons of oil across Wisconsin and Michigan. In 1999, 5,300 gallons spilled near Crystal Falls.
The Straits-crossing section is now an engineering nightmare, completely out of design specifications and subject to totally unplanned, unexamined failure modes. The 68-year-old structure was designed with a useful life of 50 years if the pipes rested on the solid lake bottom, so pipes and welds would suffer no unexpected stress. However, Straits currents have undercut the pipeline, requiring the installation of 200 supports as of 2020. Now, being off the lakebed, the pipeline is subject to lateral flexing by straits currents with sagging between supports.
It is also a target for more anchor drags or strikes.
In June 2020, significant damage to supports led to a temporary shutdown of Line 5. Enbridge failed to inform state officials about the damage and condition of the line. Finally, the pipeline coating, now covered with mussels that prevent visual inspection, has failed in many locations.
Engineering literature is replete with after-action reports analyzing famous disasters like Deepwater Horizon’s 4.9-million barrel oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (faulty cement at the well); I-35 bridge in Minneapolis (subjected to weight beyond design carrying capacity); Boeing 737Max (airframe extended three times, bigger engines repositioned, faulty stability computer system); and of course, Enbridge’s million-gallon spill disaster in the Kalamazoo River. What will the after-action report of a pipeline disaster in the Straits say about fundamental design breaches?
Continued operation of Line 5 is dangerously inconsistent with the State’s obligation to preserve and protect Michigan’s lands and waters in perpetuity. This is precisely why Gov. Whitmer ordered the Line 5 easement crossing the Straits of Mackinac vacated.
About the authors: The Upper Peninsula Propane Research Team includes Mary Pelton Cooper, Marjorie Forslin, John Forslin, Jeff Towner, Rosemary Grier, Gene Champagne, and Horst Schmidt. They study the propane issues and attend U.P. Propane Task Force meetings.