Report Back from Bike the Line Part 1

Bike the Line Part 1 finished over a week ago! Over the course of 11 days we biked over 100 miles and door-to-door canvassed over 300 homes (phew!) spread across the last four Michigan counties Line 5 runs through before heading into Sarnia, Ontario. We’re late in updating everyone due to being really busy catching up with life as well as what I’ll aptly call “rider’s” block. LOL

The riders' bikes, just before departing from Marysville City Park.
The riders’ bikes, just before departing from Marysville City Park.

Canvassing all those days was fun, stressful at times but we can already tell from the connections we made that it was worth it. Within minutes of biking away from the kickoff event in Marysville, we spoke at length with a community member who’s fighting Enbridge tooth and nail because of what Enbridge’s Line 5 operations are doing to her and her family’s health just outside of Marysville.

Soon after, we were actually granted a chance to tour the runways of the St. Clair International Airport, which Line 5 passes right through! We had already met with employees there earlier in the morning to discuss what the issues were surrounding Line 5, why it is controversial and needs to be shut down.

The wind displays a call to "Shut Down Line 5" as we tour the runways of the St. Clair Airport, which Line 5 passes right through!
The wind blows strongly on our “Shut Down Line 5” flag as we tour the runways of the St. Clair Airport, which Line 5 passes right through!

We proceeded to canvass a few dozen more homes before it got too late in the day to continue. And, despite an unfortunate incident which delayed us for 3 days (more on this to come!), we continued to reach out to community members along Line 5 for several more days.


Reactions from folks were diverse. They were usually a mix of reactions to the issue of Line 5 and pipelines as well as reactions to just the fact of meeting a pair of bikers canvassing in the middle of farm country. It was definitely a unique experience. There were at least a few instances in which community members were so enamored by bikers traveling across the state to spread the no-line-5-gospel that we had their attention and almost could have said anything. 😉 But we stayed on point.

Pipeline markers like this are almost everywhere along the pipeline route. They're needed for quick pin-pointing of where Line 5 runs if (and when) a leak occurs.
Pipeline markers like this are almost everywhere along the pipeline route. They’re needed for quick pin-pointing of where Line 5 runs if (and when) a leak occurs.

We experienced a diversity of perspectives on the issues surrounding Line 5: immense opposition to Line 5 and a desire to fight it, opposition to Enbridge generally, indifference, neutrality, feelings that we need the crude, actual affection/love for fossil fuels in at least one case, etc. Some folks were pissed at what Enbridge did to them or to their neighbors, others felt that Enbridge was being good to them and took care of them, and still others weren’t particularly excited by Enbridge but were getting paid by them somehow and didn’t want to rock that relationship. In one particularly interesting case, one member of a husband-wife pair was supportive of Enbridge and had a good thing to say about them, while the other was ardently opposed to them and working against them in their own ways.

For many community members, it would seem easy for them to dissociate the pipeline running right through their roads and farmlands from the fact that it also happens to pose a constant threat to the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac. For others, the issues with the pipeline crossing the Straits were clear and that was enough for them to have concern.

One of the bikers stands at the site of a 1993 leak of Line 5 on the outskirts of North Branch, MI.One of the bikers stands at the site of a 1993 leak of Line 5 on the outskirts of North Branch, MI.

There was a particularly interesting moment when we canvassed homes in the vicinity of a Line 5 pump station just outside of North Branch, one which was a few feet away from the site of a 200-gallon leak discovered by a community member in 1993. As it turned out, we ended up canvassing actual Enbridge workers of that selfsame pump station. One of them debated us about pipeline leaks. After claiming that Line 5 was pristine (even Enbridge doesn’t claim that, though their messaging is definitely mixed), he went on to say “but pipeline leaks are natural. Every time you go to the bathroom, that’s a leak.”

Don’t really know what to say about that, other than: wow. If you want to go there… yes, there are certain “pipelines” that “leak”, but that’s their job. It’s not Line 5’s “job” to leak, and it’s not acceptable as just its nature.

If this is the level of logic of an Enbridge Line 5 worker, it just further proves that we need to shut down Line 5 before it leaks, especially in the Straits.

Kickoff Rally!

press conference

On Wednesday, May 25th Bike the Line riders were met from our supporters to stage a proper bike-tour kickoff. Supporters from the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, Food and Water Watch, and the Council of Canadians helped to hold our gigantic banners.

The send-off was timed to pose an alternative narrative to Enbridge’s scheduled “Spill Response Training.” There were many different colored uniforms in Marysville that day: Enbridge employees, the Coast Guard, the Marysville police, and the U.S. Border Patrol.big banners

Their message was: “We are training so that a spill in the St. Clair river would be the ‘safest’ spill possible”.
Our counter-message: “There is no such thing as a safe spill. Shut down the pipeline.”

As we marched through through the sea of pipeline-responders, the various media that was there took notice. flagWe collectively did five different interviews. The Times-Herald of Port Huron wrote an excellent article, and our demonstration was mentioned on Michigan Radio as well. We also took some of our own videos of the press conference. Spirits were high as a representative read a solidarity statement written by Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

As the much-too-casual spill drill winded to a halt, Murtaza and Iona, the two bikers for the first leg of the trip, ensured their bikes were in working order and departed for the first round of door-knocking. As the day winded to a close, the riders could be found knocking on the doors of the residents of St. Clair county living just “upstream” from the spill drill. Over the next 2 weeks they will travel through St. Clair, Lapeer, and Tuscola County talking to every frontline residents along the way…

riding towards

Hang out with the bikers on June 4th at a Community Speaker Event in Reese!
11:00am to 1:00pm in the Reese Unity District Library.

Canvassing Marysville

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.

Until then!

Chalk, Kes, Iona, Barb, Zoe, and Duncan

Release: State’s Response on Enbridge Line 5 Violations Woefully Inadequate

Groups demand immediate, meaningful legal action on company’s easement

April 29, 2016 — the meek response by Michigan’s top leaders to clear violations of Enbridge Energy Partners’ easement agreement with the state deepens concerns about a lack of leadership in protecting the Straits of Mackinac from a catastrophic oil spill, Great Lakes advocates said today in a letter to the state.

On April 27, the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign received a response from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Snyder administration to the campaign’s April 13 letter, documenting at least eight known violations of Enbridge Energy Partners’ lease agreement with the state for operating pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge’s ongoing violations related to pipeline design threaten the very safety and health of the Great Lakes, and thus trigger the state’s duty to enforce its agreement with Enbridge.

The state’s letter points to the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board process to evaluate risks and alternatives to Line 5 in the Straits as proof that state officials are taking action to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill. This evaluation process, however, will not be complete until the summer of 2017 at the earliest.

“We are deeply disappointed that Michigan Attorney General Schuette, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director William Moritz failed to address the urgent issues we raised in our letter,” said environmental attorney Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director of FLOW (For Love of Water) in Traverse City. “Instead, they simply cited what is amounting to a two-year process with little certainty of producing an outcome that will protect our Great Lakes. That is not acceptable to us and our communities and businesses that love and rely on the Great Lakes.”

In the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign’s April 13 letter, twenty-two partner groups and Patagonia, Inc., called on the state to terminate its easement with Enbridge because the risk to the Great Lakes is too great and no remedy exists for some of the eight specific violations of the easement and state law, which include:

  • Concealing information about cracks, dents, and corrosion with continued, sweeping assertions and misrepresentations that the Straits pipelines are in “excellent condition, almost as new as when they were built and installed” and have “no observed corrosion.” Of the nine rust spots on the on-shore portion of the eastern Straits pipeline, corrosion has eaten away 26 percent of the pipeline’s wall thickness in a 7-inch-long area, according to newly released company data.
  • Failing to meet the pipeline wall thickness requirement due to corrosion and manufacturing defects. Newly released Enbridge data reveals that manufacturing defects in the 1950s resulted in pipeline wall thickness of less than half an inch in perhaps hundreds of sections and up to 41 percent less thick than mandated on the west Straits pipeline. Enbridge, meanwhile, continues to boast falsely about its “nearly one-inch-thick walls of Line 5’s steel pipe travelling under the Straits.”
  • Failing to meet the “reasonably prudent person” provision by claiming that its steel pipelines lying underwater just west of the Mackinac Bridge since 1953 can last forever and do not require a plan for eventual decommissioning. The 63-year-old pipelines were built to last 50 years.
  • Failing to demonstrate adequate liability insurance, maintain required coating and wood-slat covering to prevent rust and abrasion, and adequately support the pipeline, resulting in stressed and deformed segments.
  • Failing to adhere to federal emergency spill response and state environmental protection laws, including Act 10 of P.A. 1953, the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act (“GLSLA”), the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (“MEPA”), and public trust law.

“The state is not acting with any sense of urgency despite the clear and present danger these pipelines pose to the Great Lakes and shoreline communities,” said James Clift, Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council. “If the state truly takes their responsibility as seriously as they say to protect the public trust resources of the Great Lakes—the crown jewels of Michigan’s environment and economy—state officials will enforce the violations of the 1953 legal agreement with Enbridge.”

“The culture of denial and delay continues to prevail among Michigan’s top leadership, unfairly placing the risk on the public and our communities,” said David Holtz, Executive Committee Chair of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “It’s time to prioritize our public waters over powerful private interests.”

To date, more than 30 cities, villages, townships, and counties and tribal governments, across Michigan have voted to call on the governor and attorney general to stop the oil flowing through the Straits, including Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, and the cities of Cheboygan, Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City. Dramatic new research from the University of Michigan released in late March shows an Enbridge oil pipeline rupture in the Mackinac Straits could impact more than 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron coastlines, as well as more than 15 percent of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60 percent of Lake Huron’s open water.

The state of Michigan’s April 27 letter is available here and the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign’s April 13 letter here.

Concerned Bikers to Reach Out to Communities Along Enbridge Crude Oil Pipeline, Call for It to Be Shut Down

This summer, folks will trace Enbridge Line 5 and bike over 750 miles from Marysville, Michigan to Superior, Wisconsin.

Detroit, MI – Tuesday, April 5, 2016 – this summer, concerned individuals from across the continent organizing as “Bike the Line” will be on bicycle following the path of a controversial crude oil and natural gas pipeline known as Line 5. They will canvass communities living along the route of the pipeline from Marysville, MI to Superior, WI, and hold community events along the way to raise awareness about risks associated with Line 5’s continued operation. The pipeline is owned and operated by Enbridge, the company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, wherein over one million gallons of diluted bitumen spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

“Enbridge is a dubious company with an abominable safety record,” organizer Kestrel Marcel said. “There’s mounting concern in Michigan about this dangerous pipeline, and we feel this is the perfect time to mobilize communities living along the pipeline route to help get it shut down.”

Line 5 is 63 years old and was built in 1953 before the Submerged Lands Act, enacted to safeguard the Great Lakes, was established. Line 5 was only built to last 50 years. At the Straits, it splits into twin pipelines directly exposed to its freshwaters. In 2013, Enbridge increased Line 5’s pumping capacity by 10% to 23 million gallons per day. Underwater diver footage obtained by the National Wildlife Federation showed that the pipeline’s Straits crossing was not being maintained. Their video footage shows sections covered in debris and broken support struts hanging in the water. Momentum to shut down Line 5 has been building in recent months: as of mid-March, 25 Michigan communities have passed resolutions calling for its decommissioning.

“We think a lot of the folks living along this pipeline don’t even know it runs right through their communities,” said organizer Murtaza Nek, “so we’ll be knocking on doors all summer to make sure they do and so their voices could be added to the chorus of opposition to it.”

“Bike the Line” is sponsored by the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MICATS), an organization that has invoked controversial forms of protest to raise awareness about the fossil fuel industry in the Great Lakes. MICATS has organized numerous protests against energy giant Enbridge in particular, including two demonstrations which resulted in felony convictions for four of its members for engaging in peaceful protest.

About “Bike the Line”

update: we’ve updated the About page.

We’re biking along the route of Enbridge’s Line 5 crude oil pipeline this summer to connect with communities living along the pipeline and to help mobilize to get it shut down! Join us!

The idea to organize a bike trip that traced the flow of Line 5 in reverse began from discussions within various groups organizing to decommission Line 5. People shared a desire to re-connect with the human face that has the pipeline literally running through their backyards.

There has been a lot of opposition to the line, including resolutions from four tribal communities and dozens of resolutions from local governments and municipalities calling for the immediate retirement of Line 5.

We want to add to this chorus of opposition and help amplify the voices of people living along the pipeline. And we want to do so in a way that connects us to the beautiful Michigan landscape and doesn’t totally rely on fossil fuels—we want to complete the trip on our bikes.

Some of the project’s goals are:

  1. Spreading awareness about Line 5 to the communities that live along the pipeline.
  2. Connecting with residents about the dangers of the pipeline and what to do when it spills.
  3. Energizing the movement to shut down line 5.

Check out About Line 5 to learn more about the issues, Route of the Line to learn more about the route, and Contact Us if you’d like to get involved or just learn more!