Opposition to Line 5 pipeline in Michigan grows over concerns for Great Lakes and treaty rights

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: A protest against the Line 5 pipeline on January 27, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Craig Mauger/The Detroit News.

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline moves about 540,000 barrels per day of oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.

Crucially, the pipeline runs underwater for 7.2 kilometres at the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The Line 3 pipeline (which starts in Alberta) feeds Line 5 via a terminal in Superior, while Line 5 feeds the Line 9 pipeline that begins in Sarnia, Ontario.

Indigenous land defenders have been mobilizing in Minnesota to stop construction of the new Line 3 pipeline, while the Chippewas of the Thames have opposed the Line 9 pipeline on their traditional territory in Ontario.

Significantly for all concerned, a study by the University of Michigan Water Center several years ago found that if the Line 5 pipeline were to leak at the Straits it could affect 1,160 kilometres of Great Lakes shoreline and that an oil slick could travel as far as Manitoulin Island and the South Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron.

In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave notice to Calgary-based Enbridge that it must shut down the Line 5 pipeline by May 2021.

Then last month, Michigan environmental regulators approved permits for Enbridge to build a tunnel to house the pipeline where it runs under the Straits of Mackinac. That tunnel still needs several more permits but is scheduled to be built by 2024.

The Michigan-based Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign has warned: “Enbridge’s latest move is to claim Canada has authority over oil pipelines in Michigan. Canadian officials are trying to enlist President Biden’s help.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated: “Line 5 is a vital source of fuel for homes and businesses on both sides of the border. That is something we have argued strongly and will continue to argue strongly with members of the U.S. administration.”

And the Traverse City Record Eagle has reported: “Tribal nations in Michigan point out that any oil spill along the length of Enbridge’s pipeline could threaten to harm their rights to hunt and fish in the area as well as the Great Lakes as a whole. Those same rights are guaranteed under the 1836 Treaty of Washington.”

Four Native American tribes in Michigan – Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi – have opposed the pipeline.

Last summer, Bay Mills Indian Community Tribal Chairman Bryan Newland stated: “Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline puts our treaty rights and our way of life at risk every single day. We are going to continue to fight to protect our rights, our waters, and our way of life.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network has also called on US President Joe Biden to “put an end to ALL fossil fuel infrastructure and projects, making the ones that are near or on indigenous territories of top priority.”

The construction of pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure relate to numerous human rights including the right to a safe and healthy environment, the Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent, and the right to water.


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