While the majority of opposition to Line 5 has rightly been focused on the 4 mile section that runs under the straits of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron it is also important to emphasize the very real threat the aging oil pipeline poses to Lake Superior.
In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan alone the pipeline traverses over 280 miles of rugged terrain and crosses over 160 rivers and waterbodies. Most of these rivers drain south into Lake Michigan but over 60 rivers and streams crossed by Line 5 drain north, directly into Lake Superior.
A pipeline rupture in this remote, often inaccessible landscape could quickly reach Lake Superior. Considering the pipeline is 64 years old this tragic scenario is increasingly possible. The fact that the walls of the land-based pipeline are 65% thinner than the underwater section in the straits (0.281 inch thick versus 0.813 inch) dramatically increases the odds for such an ecological disaster.
For almost twenty years the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) has been implementing environmental protection and restoration projects throughout the Upper Peninsula including projects in the majority of watersheds crossed by Line 5.
For instance, in 2017 the SWP’s Great Lakes Conservation Corps (GLCC) completed over 120 habitat restoration, watershed restoration and coastal restoration projects throughout the 15 counties that comprise the Upper Peninsula. Many of these restoration projects would be devastated by a leak in Line 5. Restored trout habitat, rare bird habitat, threatened plant species, many types of wildlife habitat and of course human habitat are all located downstream from Line 5.
Each year the staff at the SWP also work with grade school and high schools students on a wide variety of Great Lakes education projects that include both classroom time and hands-on involvement with real Great Lakes protection and restoration projects in their communities.
Most of these students could tell you that Lake Superior is so large that it could contain all of the other Great Lakes (plus 3 extra Lake Erie’s) and that it holds more than 10% of the world’s available fresh surface water.
They could tell you that Lake Superior has a retention time of almost 200 years (that water, or oil, entering the lake takes about two centuries to pass through). They could also tell you that Lake Superior is the headwaters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence system and that over 40 million people live downstream.
Lastly, they would tell you that of course we should do everything possible to protect the Great Lakes and that includes removing an aging oil pipeline that should never have been built in the first place. They would tell you that, not just because they live here, but because it’s simply the right thing to do. It’s just common sense. Even a school kid knows that.