Michigan gubernatorial race may determine fate of oil pipeline

By Gabrielle Khoriaty

The future of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline may be determined by the upcoming Michigan gubernatorial race. Incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has fought to shut the pipeline down to protect the environment of the Great Lakes region from a potential oil spill, while Republican candidate Tudor Dixon is prioritizing the protection of the pipeline.

Enbridge Line 5 is an oil pipeline at the floor of the Straits of Mackinac, built in 1953. According to the Sierra Club, its original life expectancy was 50 years and critics say a rupture would harm waters across the Great Lakes. Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy says the pipeline is needed to provide heating, fuel vehicles, and power industry. Because of ongoing maintenance there isn’t a specific life expectancy for the pipeline.

Enbridge is looking to increase safety by replacing the Line 5 oil and natural gas pipelines and encapsulating them in a tunnel proposed for construction under the lake bed.

Last May, Indigenous groups gathered at the Heart of the Turtle in Mackinaw City, Michigan, to take action on climate change, protect water, and support the state of Michigan’s efforts to shut down Line 5.

“Water is not a commodity,” said demonstrator Elizabeth Clark. “It's a right.”

Opponents of the pipeline, including the state of Michigan and Native tribes at the Heart of the Turtle gathering, contend it poses a threat to the water supply. 

In November 2020, Whitmer mandated the pipeline shut down by May 2021 and took legal action. Enbridge ignored the order and filed their own lawsuit challenging state authority over the pipeline. Litigation is ongoing and the case was moved to federal court in August 2022.

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