Whitmer Needs to Act Now Before a Line 5 Disaster Wipes Out Northern Michigan Economy

By Chris Shepler

I’ve been on the record for several years now sharing my concerns about the threat of the Line 5 pipeline devastating my family’s Mackinac Island ferry business. I was also appointed to the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, under former Governor Snyder, studying risks and alternatives to Line 5. I’m a conservative and I understand the need for oil in our society, but I am deeply concerned about the risk of this pipeline to my business and to the many others that depend on the Great Lakes and tourism. 

Those strong concerns have been hugely amplified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. I fully support and appreciate the need for the restrictions, as they have been working to flatten the curve of this devastating disease here in Michigan. But the impact on our northern Michigan tourist–based business has us reeling. We’re now operating at full schedule, with all our fuel and labor costs—but only running at much lower capacity. While we’re doing everything we can to get through this challenge, I am absolutely certain that we could not withstand another setback.

If there were any type of Line 5 oil leak in the Straits now, we could never withstand the economic hit from such a disaster. It would immediately put me and too many other Mackinac Straits area businesses that depend on tourists coming to enjoy the beautiful clean waters of the Great Lakes out of business for good. And many of these communities rely on the lake for our drinking water—not to mention the devastating environmental impact to our region’s fish and wildlife.

The recent news that Enbridge likely had not just one but two incidents of ships dragging anchors or cables over the pipeline is my worst nightmare. This comes only two years after another anchor strike from a tugboat in the Straits. Enbridge’s numerous ads and public statements about the safety of the pipeline are becoming shrill: when an anchor does finally grab hold of the pipeline and ruptures it, our family business and most of my neighbors will be completely wiped out. 

As a member of the Great Lakes Business Network, I’ve learned that Michigan is not nearly as dependent on Line 5 as Enbridge’s ads suggest. While the U.P. does get some propane from Line 5, Governor Whitmer’s U.P. Energy Task Force has identified solutions to ensure no one would freeze or be unable to afford propane should Line 5 be closed for any reason. We’ve also learned that the vast majority of this western Canadian oil is traveling through Michigan as a shortcut to refineries in eastern Canada. These refineries in Montreal and Quebec have become dependent on Line 5 because Canada has been unable to construct a pipeline in their own country to move their own oil – and Michigan is taking the risk for them at our Straits of Mackinac. 

Earlier this week an Ingham County Circuit Court judge accepted Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request for a temporary shutdown of the pipeline because of the unanswered questions and concerns about these new revelations of vessel strikes to the pipeline. This is especially important because the judge is recognizing Michigan’s unique public trust obligation to protect the waters and bottomlands of the Great Lakes for all the citizens of Michigan. I am pleased to see this strong action being taken by Michigan’s attorney general, and I join my colleagues at the Great Lakes Business Network in calling on Governor Whitmer to use her full authority to join with the attorney general to revoke Enbridge’s easement and shut down Line 5 now.