Students protest Mackinac oil pipeline at rally at the Rock
Students gathered at the Rock on Farm Lane Wednesday afternoon to advocate for the removal of oil pipelines known as Line 5 from the Straits of Mackinac . The rally was organized by Spartan Sierra Club , the MSU branch of Sierra Club, a national environmental organization with more than two million members and supporters.
Owned by Canadian company Enbridge , Line 5 is 645 miles long and carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas through Michigan each day, according to the company’s website. Built in 1953, Enbridge’s website says the section of pipeline crossing the Straits of Mackinac has never leaked in more than 60 years — but Spartan Sierra Club Campaign Manager Celia Hallan said the pipeline was originally intended to only last 50.
“It was only built to last about 50 years, and it’s been in operation now for about 63 years,” Hallan said. “There is evidence that it is very highly corroded and Enbridge has no plans to fix that corrosion or replace any of the parts that have been faulty.”
Hallan said an oil spill in the Straits would mix in with currents instead of floating to the surface, spreading a long distance through the Great Lakes .
“The cleanup effort for Line 5, if it were to break under the Straits of Mackinac, would not be possible in the same way that a cleanup effort for, say, a pipeline that breaks on land would be,” Hallan said.
Spartan Sierra Club’s efforts to oppose Line 5 have been spearheaded in part by Excursions Manager Hannah Grall , who said she got fired up after watching a documentary about the issue. Grall said she is reaching out to other Michigan campuses to try and get their environmental groups involved.
“It really hits home because I live right on the shores of Lake Michigan, I enjoy the Great Lakes, I enjoy clean drinking water,” Grall said. “I thought it was something huge that we should be working on here, because we have such a big population of students and a lot of people who are really interested in protecting the environment.”
Michigan Sierra Club Chair David Holtz spoke to students at the rally, sharing information about Line 5 and answering questions. Holtz said eight violations of Enbridge’s easement agreement with the State have been identified.
“In 1953 when they installed the pipeline through the Straits … in order to put the pipeline on the bottom of the Great Lakes, they needed the State to agree to that, so they entered into a contract called an easement agreement that set about the conditions for operating that pipeline,” Holtz said. “Enbridge has violated that easement agreement, and we want the State to use its authority over that contract, that easement, to decommission the pipeline.”
Holtz said there are direct parallels between the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 5, such as both threatening a source of drinking water and potentially violating treaties with Native American tribes.
“What the Standing Rock (Sioux) tribe is fighting there is to get the Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for an easement agreement for the Dakota Access Pipeline company (Energy Transfer Partners) to put the pipeline under the Missouri River,” Holtz said.
Spartan Sierra Club asked students to sign an Oil & Water Don’t Mix petition, urging Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette to shut down the pipeline. Undecided freshman Matt Militello first learned about Line 5 at the rally and signed the petition. Militello said he thinks he could become passionate about the issue.
“You see all these articles about how the environment is only degrading and getting worse and worse, and I think something needs to be done about that,” Militello said. “I think that change starts at the communal level, and that the more involved we are with our community, the more likely it is to change.