This piece was originally published on Detroit Socialist.


This summer, members of Detroit DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group traveled north for two weeks of community building and direct action with a coalition of environmental action groups committed to Shutting Down Line 5. This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers that Enbridge’s oil pipelines present to our community and the opportunities for engagement within Detroit DSA, and beyond, in the fight to Shut Down Line 5!

A Line 5 Explainer with links on how you can take action

“In its 64-year lifespan, Line 5 has had 29 leaks of different sizes, spilling more than 1 million gallons of oil and gas.” National Wildlife Federation

What is Line 5?

Line 5 is an oil and natural gas pipeline that runs across the Straits of Mackinac. In 1953, President Eisenhower’s administration granted Enbridge an easement to build and operate a section of their pipeline system in the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge constructed two 20-inch diameter pipelines running 4.5 miles along the bottomlands of the Straits as part of their Line 5 pipeline, which runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario.

In signing the easement Enbridge agreed to recognize, in perpetuity, the State of Michigan as owner and trustee of the Straits of Mackinac and the special status of “public trust” conferred on the relationship between Michigan and the water and bottomlands. “Public trust” theoretically protects the interests of the people, access to clean drinking water, fishing, swimming, boating etc, in the water against any actual or potential threat from a private entity.

Line 5: Great Lakes Shortcut for Canadian Oil by Oil and Water Don’t Mix

Enbridge’s Line 5 is part of a larger system of pipelines through the Great Lakes region that transport oil and natural gas from Alberta to Eastern Canada for the Canadian domestic market or for export to global markets. Line 5 carries light crude oil and natural gas from the Superior to Sarnia refineries.

Detroit Toledo Crude Oil Supply Pipeline from FLOW, For Love of Water

Where does the oil go?

Line 5 is not a major source of propane for the UP (only 0.25% of UP propane comes from Line 5) or energy for Michigan (less than 5% of oil and gas transported by Line 5 stays in Michigan). The majority of Michigan’s energy needs are supplied by light, medium, and heavy crude oil arriving at Detroit’s Marathon refinery via Enbridge’s Line 6B, which runs from Superior to Stockbridge where it connects with Line 79 from Stockbridge to Detroit, and Sunoco’s Mid-Valley Pipeline from Texas.

Far from being a vital part of oil and gas infrastructure that helps keep our homes warm and our transportation moving, Line 5 is a shortcut that, by crossing the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, and the St. Clair River, connecting Lakes St. Clair, Huron, and Erie, threatens the entire ecosystem of the Great Lakes region.

Line 5 Leaks and Spills by National Wildlife Federation

Have there been oil spills from Line 5?

To date the “major” spills from Line 5 have been on overland sections of the pipeline. They have caused devastation to inland waterways, wetlands, and human and animal communities. So far, we have mercifully been spared the ecological and human rights disaster that would result from an underwater spill. That danger has been dodged by a hair’s breadth and grows more and more likely every day that Enbridge is allowed to transport oil through two ancient, heavily corroded, free floating pipelines.

In 1980 Enbridge spilled more than 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids from Line 5 into the Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula. More than 30 years later the land and water are still contaminated.

In 1999, another major spill, also in the Upper Peninsula, leaked large amounts of natural gas into the air around Crystal Falls, forcing 400 people to evacuate the town, while more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil spilled through a 4-inch hairline crack, polluting nearby wetlands.

Line 5 East Pipeline Anchor Strike 2018 by Ballard Marine Construction

More recently, in 2018, Line 5 under the Straits was damaged by a strike from a ship’s anchor. Underwater photos show the deep dent left in the already fragile pipeline.

Most Line 5 oil spills do not garner local, let alone national, media attention. In 2017, Beth Wallace, of the National Wildlife Foundation, published her research documenting more than 1.1 million gallons of oil and natural gas spilled by Enbridge’s Line 5 during the past 50 years.

Many spills go unnoticed by Enbridge, the first alert of the massive 843,000-gallon Talmadge Creek oil spill which polluted 39 miles of the Kalamazoo River in 2010 came from local residents reporting seeing oil in the water. Despite the end of official clean up activities in 2017, the disaster still impacts local communities and environments.

The Kalamazoo oil spill raised awareness of the dangers posed to Michiganders by Line 5 and brought together a broad spectrum of the community asking questions about the safety of the pipelines. Enbridge responded by proposing to build a tunnel around the pipelines to “protect” them. The tunnel proposal split the opposition to Line 5 with right-leaning residents favoring the tunnel and left, progressive residents opposing it and continuing to call for the complete shutdown of Line 5.

In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked Enbridge’s easement and required Line 5 to be shut down by May 2021. Enbridge defied the order and is still currently operating the pipeline.

Why should Detroit DSA join the fight to Shutdown Line 5?

While clearly catastrophic, an oil spill from Line 5 is not the only issue with oil pipelines in general, and Enbridge’s Line 5, in particular.

Support for oil pipelines and the tunnel proposal presupposes continued reliance on fossil fuels and distracts from investing and innovation in clean sources of energy. It does not address the environmental impacts of other sectors of the fossil fuel supply chain including air pollution from refineries on communities. As proponents of The Green New Deal, Detroit DSA must oppose projects that invest in, and commit to a fossil fuel future.

The pipeline and the tunnel are deeply opposed by all 12 Federally recognized tribes in Michigan. As settlers and allies we have a responsibility to listen to and follow Indigenous leadership, and to respect and uplift tribal sovereignty in all land and water rights issues. In a recent letter to President Biden, tribal leaders wrote “The fight to decommission Line 5 is critical to our communities. Five of our Tribal Nations reserved fishing, hunting, and gathering rights in the Straits of Mackinac….as the ability to take fish, game, and plants was and remains central to our people’s way of life and very survival.” These sentiments were echoed by a group of Indigenous women and two-spirit people in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers where they noted that, “We are of the Great Lakes, where food grows on water….We hold a responsibility to protect our water, our ecosystems, and our cultural lifeways for the next seven generations. Both the current Line 5 and the proposed Line 5 expansion threaten to irreversibly damage our drinking water, our ecosystems, and manoomin [wild rice].

The fight to shutdown Line 5 is also a human rights fight. The tunnel project will bring hundreds of non-local workers, mainly men, to Northern Michigan, where they will be housed by Enbridge in “man-camps.” Man-camps are hubs for sex-trafficking of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Detroit DSA cannot in good conscience fight for reproductive rights while staying silent on the continued abuse and murder of Indigenous women.

Man-camps not only extract an emotional toll on communities, they are also economically extractive. While some portion of workers’ salaries may be spent in local communities, the majority of the economic benefit of pipeline jobs will be returned to the workers’ home communities, both in and out of Michigan.

What can YOU do to help?



The Detroit Socialist is produced and run by members of Detroit DSA’s Newspaper Collective. Interested in becoming a member of Detroit DSA? Go to to become a member. Send a copy of the dues receipt to: in order to get plugged in to our activities!