Two years ago, protests at Standing Rock showed the power of a movement against the forces of unrestrained capitalism. Native protestors, joined soon by other allies, stood firm even in the biting bitter cold of the terrible northern Plains, trying to protect sacred sites and vitally important waterways against leaky pipelines built by shoddy, dishonest companies.
And it worked! Or, at least it did until Trump won and we entered the worst timeline.
But still: in all but the darkest and grimmest scenarios, the protestors at Standing Rock managed to stand firm, even as corporate power used the long arm of the state to try to break them, even after they were set upon by dogs and drones. It was goddamn heroic.
And now a handful of veterans from that movement are trying to bring the same attention to one of this blog’s favorite causes: Enbridge Line 5, running directly beneath the Straits of Mackinac, that roiling and terrifying waterway that combines Lake Huron and Michigan.
(Of course, they are actually one lake, he said, sniffingly)
In 2016, Nancy Shomin camped at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota with fellow protesters, trying to block the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Now, Shomin, who said she grew up in Flint and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, finds herself again protesting an oil pipeline – but, this time, closer to home.
Shomin, 54, and others have set up a camp to protest Canadian oil transport company Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries millions of gallons of oil and natural gas liquids each day, splitting into two pipelines as it passes underwater through the Straits of Mackinac.
“The goal is to shut it down,” she said.
Now, this isn’t quite a movement yet; as of the article being published, there were less than a dozen people. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
A rupture in the pipeline would be catastrophic. The Straits are powerful, filled with rushing and oscillating currents, which punish ships and make navigation extremely difficult. The water flow is hard to contain, as this 2014 U of M report shows.
The report is pretty heavy on the science, but luckily the amazing people at Circle of Blue summarized it.
According to the report’s findings, a rupture under the straits would be particularly problematic because of the quickly moving and changing currents. The amount of water moving through the straits can be tenfold the volume of water that dives over Niagara Falls, and currents tend to reverse direction every few days.
“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” said Schwab.
An oil spill under the Straits of Mackinac could reach beaches on Mackinac Island, one of the crown jewels of Michigan tourism, within 12 hours. The oil could travel as far as 35 miles to the west, reaching Beaver Island, and 50 miles to the southeast, all the way to Rogers City, said the report.
That might not seem like a lot, but 85 miles of open water is enormous, and incredibly hard to contain and clean, especially if a leak or spill happened in the winter under the thick ice, or during a storm.
Oil or liquid gas or petroleum could move its way into rivers, killing birds and fish throughout the upper Great Lakes system. Even if you don’t care about fish, those are people’s livelihoods.
None of this is abstract. Pipelines will always leak, and Enbridge’s tend to leak a lot more than others. And they tend to leak a lot more than Enbridge reports, because they are the kind of company that sees itself above the law. They are responsible for the largest leak in Michigan history, and have been underreporting the amount of leakage in Line 5 for years. (That’s an understatement; the actual amount of leaking has been double what the Pruitt-enabling jackals at Enbridge blithely report.)
You might not be surprised to know that, to be sure they are always on the wrong side of things, the company acquired a major stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It’s not just leakage, although it is also that. The pipelines can be easily damaged by ships, as happened just this spring. They are a clear and present danger to anyone who relies on the Great Lakes for clean water, whether that is for drinking or your livelihood. You don’t have to think it sacred to know that it is holy.
The waters belong to us all. They aren’t the private property of the rich and powerful, armed with unaccountable security forces and protected on high by corrupt officials. Standing Rock proved that it is possible to win, even though the battle is never over.
In Mackinac, the water flows both ways with a terrifying ferocity. Sometimes, so does justice.