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Indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Line 5 pipeline due to ‘imminent’ threat


Indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Line 5 pipeline due to ‘imminent’ threat

May 27, 2023 | 4:28 am ET
By Jon King
Indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Line 5 pipeline due to ‘imminent’ threat
"Heart of the Turtle" international Indigenous gathering in opposition to oil pipelines, Mackinaw City, May 14, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Leaders from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance submitted a letter Thursday to the Biden administration with an emergency request to decommission the Line 5 pipeline due to imminent threats of oil spills impacting the Bad River Watershed and the Great Lakes. 

The controversial 70-year-old pipeline, operated by Canadian oil company Enbridge, flows crude oil from the Bad River Watershed in northern Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula. From there it flows through the Straits of Mackinac to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and then to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, and Detroit.

Judge decides not to shut down Line 5 over shoreline erosion concerns

“We call on you to immediately revoke the Presidential Permit for Canada’s deteriorating Enbridge Line 5 pipeline before environmental calamity strikes with oil spills into the Great Lakes,” states the letter. “At the Bad River Reservation, recent flooding has eroded one riverbank to within 11 feet or less of Line 5’s centerline, creating an immediate threat. This is a nearly 70-year-old pipeline running almost two decades past its engineered lifespan.”

The letter follows an emergency filing earlier this month by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin seeking to close the Line 5 pipeline after extensive flooding in the area. However, U.S. District Judge William Conley rejected the request, saying the pipeline did not present an imminent danger.

Enbridge officials took that ruling to bolster their case that Line 5 continues to operate safely across the Bad River Reservation. 

“In fact, Line 5 has never had a release on the Reservation,” spokesman Ryan Duffy told the Michigan Advance, while noting “that the judge said moving forward with erosion mitigation projects is critically important and multiple projects are before the Band for approval. The company needs the Band’s approval to move forward, but to date the Band has not approved any of Enbridge’s erosion control measures nor given a time frame for when they may allow this work. We stand ready to work with the Bad River Band on projects that will prevent any future erosion, that will protect the waters of the Bad River and Line 5 pipeline.”

However, the Alliance pointed to a report by the National Wildlife Federation that stated the inland sections of Line 5 have leaked at least 33 times since 1968, discharging more than 1.1 million gallons of oil.

“Independent monitoring shows the underwater section of Line 5, which transitions from a single 30-inch pipeline inland to two 20-inch pipelines in the open waters of the Great Lakes, is no longer safe in the unique and fragile environment of the Straits,” states the federation’s report.

That analysis is alarming for Indigenous leaders like Jannan J. Cornstalk, Citizen of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Director of the Water is Life Festival.

“Our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as Line 5 continues to operate illegally in Indigenous territories and water,” she said. “Allowing Line 5 to continue to operate is cultural genocide, and the Biden Administration must listen and shut down Line 5. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.”