Last Saturday our team of energetic Bike the Liners converged in Marysville, Michigan to begin our summer of canvassing. While our planned bike trip will not begin until our kickoff event on the 25th, we have already begun to speak to community members living along the pipeline in Marysville on the eastern edge of St. Clair County.
It was cold and windy on the edge of Michigan’s Thumb and the rain threatened our unprotected clipboards and flyers all day. Marysville lies just across the river from Canada, where Line 5 terminates at oil refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Across the river we could clearly see the spires of Shell’s Sarnia refinery where 75,000 barrels of crude oil are refined daily. In addition to Line 5, several other pipelines cross the St. Clair River to Canada in this city. It is here that our journey will begin next week, with a community gathering organized in response to Enbridge’s “Spill Response Drill”. It’s an attempt to demonstrate their supposed “preparedness” for the spill accident that could easily happen. We invited the Marysville residents living along the pipeline to the event so they could share their concerns about the pipeline running literally through their front yards and underneath the river next to their homes. We also spoke with them about the hazards of Line 5 and collected some signatures for a petition calling for the pipeline’s shutdown.
Of the people we spoke with, many were already aware of the pipeline. However, due to the high number of pipelines running through this city (eight!), there was sometimes confusion amongst community members over exactly which pipeline we were speaking with them about. For example, Line 6B, the Enbridge pipeline which caused the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, also passes through Marysville. This pipeline was actually recently rerouted in this city to be farther away from residential areas as part of an expansion that increased the capacity of the pipeline overall. A few residents said that Enbridge had informed them of this rerouting. The high number of pipelines, in addition to the machinations of Enbridge, caused some residents to be unaware that Line 5 remains operational a mere yards from their doorsteps.
We got the impression that Enbridge has dedicated a lot of resources to convince the community that the pipeline is safe. This is obviously to prevent any momentum from building to shut the pipeline down. Enbridge has made phone calls, sent mailings, and invested money in television and YouTube commercials. However, in some cases this PR campaign obscures the risk that the pipeline truly poses. During our canvassing we learned that there was a risk of a leak from Line 5 into the front yard of a family living on 18th Street. Enbridge promptly showed up and dug up the yard in its entirety to access the pipeline. Following this incident, the homeowners sold their house and moved to Minnesota. But their neighbors still remember and complained about the disruption this construction caused even 5 years later. Some might laud Enbridge’s proactive handling of the potential leak. Our view is: leaking is inevitable. Therefore the very existence of Line 5 essentially guarantees more disruptive construction.
In another case, we could see how one homeowner’s driveway was sunken in and cracked because of the pipeline underneath. As we neared the end of the street, we noticed a construction site. As we came closer, we saw that Line 5 was clearly visible in a large hole. We were told that this had been unearthed as a part of local utility repairs: maybe Line 5 was uncovered in that manner to minimize risks of hitting the pipeline during unrelated construction? But upon further research about past pipeline incidents, it seems far more likely that this particular section was uncovered because, in May 1987, a 30″ diameter pipeline at that exact spot was found to be leaking due to external corrosion issues. It was most likely line 5 which was corroding back then, since there would be hardly reason to dig up and inspect the non-operating old pipeline 6B today. It was a powerful moment for us: we were able to see before our eyes the very piece of infrastructure that poses such a threat to Michigan and much of the Great Lakes region. The pipeline is underground for most of its length, but we were able to take a few pictures of the exposed pipeline at this site.
Those of us who canvassed along the St. Clair River reported a great deal of community opposition to not just Enbridge and Line 5, but to all eight of the pipelines and the companies that operate them. These pipelines are running underneath people’s yards without their consent, and sometimes even without their knowledge. This is noteworthy because these are some of the people that would be directly affected by an accident. It would be disingenuous to pretend that everyone was opposed to the pipeline however. We talked to some people who frankly were not scared about the hazards present in the pipeline. We left them literature in the hopes that they would reconsider their position. Others were more direct in their pro-pipeline position: one community member swore his allegiance to the pipeline because it allegedly “provides jobs.” His commitment to his community on this issue is certainly understandable in our unforgiving economy, but the amount of jobs that Line 5 provides, and existing pipelines in general, is very limited. On the other hand, 1 out of 5 jobs in Michigan depend on the Great Lakes, and should the pipeline spill in the Straits of Mackinac, the effect on all kinds of employment in this state would be disastrous.
The overall sentiment was certainly anti-pipeline however. One man even brought the whole system into question, worrying that our anti-Line 5 endeavor is not enough and that we would need a full-fledged “revolution” to solve the world’s issues because “money runs everything.” We certainly sympathize with the frustration that this man was feeling in a system that has ignored his concerns for having a safe place to live.
This week, we continue to prepare for the first leg of our bike trip, which will be running for eleven days, from May 25th to June 4th. Expect another update from us after our kickoff, which we invite you to join us for if you are in the area.
Chalk, Kes, Iona, Barb, Zoe, and Duncan