Line 5: It’s Time to Defuse the Ticking Time Bomb

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Photo: MS

The Line 5 pipeline transports synthetic crude oil from Superior, Wisconsin, through Michigan and ultimately to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Built in 1953, this aging pipeline is owned by Enbridge Energy, a Canadian company. The oil originates in the oil sands of Alberta, transported from there to Superior via Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline. Thus, despite the company’s penchant for giving different pipeline segments different names, Line 5 and the Alberta Clipper are in actuality one pipeline that carries oil from Edmonton to Sarnia. Wisconsin is just a shortcut Enbridge uses to move Canadian oil from Canada back to Canada. For our state, it’s all risk—no reward.

A 12-mile portion of the pipeline bisects the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which borders Lake Superior. Several of the easements that allowed Enbridge to use the tribal territory expired in 2013, and the tribe demanded that the company remove the pipeline—not just from their territory, but from the entire watershed. Enbridge refused, and the Bad River Band filed a federal lawsuit.

Understanding that it will likely lose this legal challenge, Enbridge is seeking state approval of an alternative route. But the company’s proposed course just barely skirts the edge of the Bad River Reservation, such that any spill would contaminate the watershed that feeds into the area’s many rivers. The health and livelihoods of tribal members, the region’s wildlife and wetlands, and Lake Superior itself are all at risk as long as Line 5 is allowed to continue operating in the area.

Wisconsin REJECTS Line 5

Report of the joint Tar Sands Team of 350 WI and Sierra Club WI

It’s now crystal clear, if it wasn’t before, that Wisconsin doesn’t want Line 5. The DNR released its long-awaited draft Environmental Impact Statement on Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 reroute in December 2021, scheduling a virtual public hearing for February 2022 and inviting written comments. At the hearing, 147 people spoke in opposition to Enbridge’s proposal (88%) and just 20 in favor (12%). Of the unprecedented 32,000 written comments submitted to the DNR, 63% asked the agency to deny Enbridge permits for its Line 5 proposal. The majority of comments listed climate change, treaty rights, waterways, wetlands, and Lake Superior as areas of concern.

Read our full report here.

Why We Must #ShutDownLine5

Enbridge’s plan to reroute Line 5 around the Bad River Reservation raises issues of tribal sovereignty, environmental racism, climate change, eminent domain, and disaster prevention.

  • Tribal sovereignty and environmental racism. We find it appalling that Enbridge is seeking to override the treaty rights and the wishes of the Bad River Band and put its water, land, and wild rice beds at risk even as we’re witnessing the largest movement for racial justice in our history. We #StandWithBadRiver.
  • Climate change. With the IPCC telling us we have just a few years in which to maybe, just maybe, avoid the very worst impacts of climate change, it’s nothing short of mad to be investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. We say #NoNewPipelines!
  • Eminent domain. Enbridge asked the Public Service Commission to grant it the authority to appropriate private land for the new segment of Line 5. The company withdrew its application after obtaining needed easements, but we continue to say #NoEminentDomainForPrivateGain!
  • Spills—not a question of if, but when. Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010. In fact, the company has been responsible for the largest inland oil pipeline spills in US history — the 1991 Line 3 rupture in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster.

Line 5 is estimated to have spilled at least 1.13 million gallons of oil in 29 incidents since 1968. A rupture of the proposed new Line 5 segment at the crossing of the Bad River would shoot toxic oil down the waterfalls of Copper Falls State Park, into the Bad River Reservation and the Kakagon Sloughs, the source of wild rice for the Bad River Band. From there, it would pour into Lake Superior.

Enbridge is asking us to prioritize the continuing transport of oil through our state over the protection and preservation of the largest freshwater lake on the planet. We say no! We must protect our water — #WaterIsLife!

Calls to decommission Line 5 are also coming from Michigan, where the pipeline crosses the Straits of Mackinac, creating a risk of a catastrophic spill into the Great Lakes. Environmental groups, tribes, and Michigan’s governor and attorney general are locked in a protracted battle with Enbridge, demanding that the company remove the pipeline from the Straits. The simulation below shows how an oil spill beneath the Straits could devastate Great Lakes ecology, wildlife, and coastal communities.

Video: University of Michigan Water Center

In the words of Beth Wallace, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Campaigns Manager, we can’t continue to play Russian Roulette with the Great Lakes. It’s time to #ShutDownLine5!

For Love of Water

In this short video, Riley Kaiser expresses the deep love that motivates those working to protect the Great Lakes from the Line 5 threat. Riley is a water protector and former 350 Wisconsin staff member who now lives on Mooningwanekaaning (Madeline Island). Music by Jennifer Hedstrom.

You Can Help!

Help us mobilize citizens to submit comments, write letters to the editor, and more. Email Phyllis Hasbrouck or click here to get involved.