2013-07-19 / News

Hundreds Rally Against Straits Pipeline Expansion at St. Ignace

By Paul Gingras


Seth Bernard (center) and May Erlewine of Traverse City sing with their band about fresh water at a rally promoting environmental awareness at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace Sunday, July 14. In view behind the stage is the Mackinac Bridge. Seth Bernard (center) and May Erlewine of Traverse City sing with their band about fresh water at a rally promoting environmental awareness at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace Sunday, July 14. In view behind the stage is the Mackinac Bridge. Hundreds of environmental activists and concerned citizens converged at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace Sunday, July 14, to protest increased conveyance of petroleum-based products through Enbridge Energy’s Line 5, a twin pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac near the Mackinac Bridge. The rally, entitled “Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes,” also covered several related fossilfuel based issues and used the platform to promote development of solar energy.

Enbridge recently expanded its pumping capacity through Line 5 by about 2.1 million gallons a day. The company did not replace any of the nearly 60-year-old pipeline beneath the Straits, but it did do extensive testing of the lines to ensure safety, said Larry Springer of Enbridge in an interview with The St. Ignace News June 28.


Hundreds converge at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace for a rally against increased conveyance of petroleum based products through Enbridge Energy’s dual Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac Sunday, July 14. The keynote speaker was Bill McKibben, a well-published activist who has been calling attention to climate change for decades. Hundreds converge at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace for a rally against increased conveyance of petroleum based products through Enbridge Energy’s dual Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac Sunday, July 14. The keynote speaker was Bill McKibben, a well-published activist who has been calling attention to climate change for decades. Keynote speaker at the rally was Bill McKibben, who has been calling attention to climate change for decades. His prominence in the environmental movement was sparked by the 1989 publication of his book, “The End of Nature.”

Providing detailed information about Line 5 and related Enbridge pipelines running through the Mid-west was Beth Wallace of the National Wildlife Federation, who worked with Jeff Alexander of J. Alexander Communications on “Sunken Hazard: Aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac an ever-present threat to the Great Lakes,” the document that sparked the demonstration at the Straits, organizers said.

The federation considers increased conveyance at Line 5 a threat to ecology, Ms. Wallace said.

To ensure safety for the environment and the economic structure, “Enbridge needs to go above and beyond current regulations,” Mr. McKibben said.

Although the rally addressed serious topics, such as pollution and potential economic damage, it was balanced by good cheer and music on fresh water themes by several musicians.

The rally was called to order with flute music by Aaron Wayne Otto, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, followed by an address by Cecil Pavlat, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Mr. Pavlat said that new terms such as “green” and other environmental slogans are becoming increasingly prominent, but he said Native Americans have focused for centuries on keeping human activity in balance with nature. The natural world, he said, “always provides what we need, but not necessarily what we want.”

The rally at the Straits was the first in a series of protests being conducted throughout the country called “Summer Heat,” Mr. McKibben said. The name and time period was chosen to coincide with the hottest days of the year, a time when environmental organizations will also “turn up the political heat,” he said.

A “Summer Heat” rally was scheduled the next day in Oregon, and others are scheduled in Utah, Boston, and Maine.

The potential for an oil spill at the Mackinac Bridge is something it would be “very good for the people of the Straits area to be aware of,” he told The St. Ignace News.

Mr. McKibben cited a major oil spill by Exxon at Mayflower, Arkansas, May 29, which is being cleaned up, but he said the most important local example of the reason area residents should be concerned is Enbridge En- ergy’s spill at Line 6B at the Kalamazoo River in 2010, where nearly one million gallons of oil spilled near Marshall.

Residents from the Marshall area spoke out at the rally in protest against Enbridge Energy’s plans and cited contamination of the river and neighboring wetlands.

Line 6B spill was the largest inland oil spill in the United States, said event co-organizer Jim Lively, program director at the Michigan Land Use Institute, who helped organize the rally.

A spill at the Straits of Mackinac would be devastating to the local tourist-based economy at the Straits, Mr. McKibben said.

“People just don’t want to vacation at an oil spill,” he said.

Although the local rally focused on the Lakehead pipeline, which originates in Superior, Wisconsin, runs through the Upper Peninsula, and crosses to the Lower Peninsula just west of the Mackinac Bridge, splitting into two smaller lines beneath the Straits (Line 5), the issue has “national implications,” he added.

A growing number of Americans are “sick of the fossil fuel industry in general,” he said.

The enormous wealth amassed by the fossil fuel industry has enabled the industry “to have its way for a long time,” preventing development of renewable resources, notably solar energy, a subject that received a lot of attention at the rally, with speakers noting major investment in solar energy infrastructure in Germany as an example of the potential to move away from fossil fuel dependence in the United States.

Pointing out the sunlit scene at Bridge View Park, “It’s a sunny day in northern Michigan,” he said. The loss of its potential use as power amounts to “a solar spill,” he added.

Mr. McKibben explained that to draw attention to environmental issues related to the burning of fossil fuels, he co-founded 350.org, a campaign to address climate change, which is now operating in 188 countries.

Local divisions of 350.org from Traverse City, Ann Arbor, and elsewhere were represented at the rally.

The reason for the name 350.org, explained Judi Briggs of the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCAT), is that 350 parts per million is considered by many scientists and climate experts to be the maximum amount of carbon dioxide safe for the atmosphere. Beyond that, she said, the result is global warming.

Burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the air, while solar power does not, protesters pointed out.

The goal of 350 groups is to draw people together to address climate change and hopefully prevent its worst effects, Mr. McKibben said.

In his address to the audience, he said that even if oil is not spilled into the water, it is eventually burned and “spills into the atmosphere,” causing global warming and associated weather disturbances around the globe, including the loss of Great Lakes ice coverage that leads to evaporation and lowering lake levels.

The good news, he said, is that the technology for clean energy exists, notably solar technology.

Germany doesn’t necessarily have a lot of sun, but it has a lot of political will, he said of the country’s efforts to develop solar power infrastructure.

Further good news for the environmental movement, he added, is in the form of global support for the need to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. He cited bans in Quebec, France, and New York against “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, a method used to mine fossil fuels that requires large amounts of pressurized water and chemicals which are pumped underground to release substances like petroleum and methane.

Owing to widespread support for cleaner energy, “I’m starting to think we may actually win this big battle,” Mr. McKibben said.

An organization called the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan circulated a petition to ban the process. The group seeks 320,000 signatures by October 1, said Carol Christensen of Macomb County, who sought signatures at the rally.

Beth Wallace said her biggest concern is Enbridge’s safety record. She alleges that company has had 800 spills from 1999 through 2008, from small leaks to large spills, the most serious being the Marshall-area spill in 2010.

She also cited a fire in which two people were killed in 2007 near Clearbrook, Minnesota, at an Enbridge site, and she called attention to an incident at Crystal Falls 14 years ago, in 1999, in which about 200,000 gallons of oil spilled and the company was forced to set afire a gas discharge before it grew larger.

The gas burned for 36 hours, she said.

Ms. Wallace told The St. Ignace News that the Line 6B incident may be the worst example, in part, because the company had testified before the U.S. Congress only 10 days before the spill that its ability to detect a leak is “almost instantaneous,” she said.

At the Line 6B spill, it took 17 hours to discover the leak and shut down the system, she added.

The reason the company had addressed Congress prior to the spill was to obtain more time to work on problems cited by its oversight organization, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which had called out hundreds of cracks in Enbridge infrastructure, Ms. Wallace contends.

Larry Springer of Enbridge said in June that the company may already have increased conveyance through Line 5, adding that the lines are safe and do not carry heavy petroleum products, notably “tar sands,” cited as a high concern by protest organizers.

The company is relying on Line 5’s strength, extensive testing, and the low impact of the light petroleum products that flow through it, Mr. Springer said.

For more information about the protest and the concerns of organizations involved, visit www.oilandwaterdontmix.com. For more information about Enbridge pipelines, visit www.enbridge.com, and www.enbridgeus.com.

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