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On Easter Sunday 2018 at about 5:30 pm, The Clyde S VanEnkevort/Erie Trader dragged her six-ton anchor from somewhere near the southern end of the St. Marie’s River (northern Lake Huron) to Indiana. Without even knowing it!
Four hundred miles.
The anchor struck three electric cables doing serious damage to two of them (cost: $100M) and causing 800 gallons (estimated) of dielectric mineral oil (an insulator) to leak into the waters of the Straits of Mackinac. The anchor left lakebed drag marks 230 feet down ahead of Enbridge’s Line 5 twin pipelines and struck both of them, causing “minor” damage.
The deployed anchor went unnoticed by the crew until they were nearly to Indiana, not until 11:20 pm the next day, roughly 30 hours later. It was reported to the Coast Guard a day after that. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report is unclear about timing, but it was minimally three days (and likely closer to a week) before the pipelines were examined for damage. Line 5 pumps nearly a million gallons of Bakken Formation (aka tar sands) petroleum products an hour.
The NTSB blamed crew negligence in securing the anchor and maintenance negligence in not properly adjusting an anchor-chain braking mechanism.
The miracle that Easter was that the Lakes were spared a catastrophe — especially considering that the pipelines are held off the bottom in a series of bottom-anchored stanchions, a post-hoc attempt to stabilize them when we learned more about the dynamics of the deep lakebed (when engineered more than six decades ago, Line 5 was envisioned to lie on the bottom).
If you were a James Bond villain bent on holding the life of the Great Lakes hostage, you could not deliberately and affirmatively find a worse place to put an oil pipeline. The confluence of back/forth currents, scouring, ice, commercial barge traffic, poor access, tribal interests, and achingly beautiful and ecologically fragile shorelines on both of Michigan’s peninsulas represents only a partial list of reasons why
Consequently, the thought of keeping this aging and damaged pipeline in place for a single second longer crosses a threshold from howlingly stupid to coldly malevolent.
Which is not out of character for Enbridge Energy Inc. A NTSB investigation found that Enbridge negligence was responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in the U.S. when its Line 6b ruptured in a Marshall, Michigan wetland in 2010. Enbridge admitted that it lied to regulators about compliance with its Line 5 easement agreement for years. Enbridge is defying the State of Michigan’s shut-down order. Despite claims that it could somehow pay for clean-up costs in the event of a Line 5 failure (as if clean-up were even possible), Enbridge lacks the liability insurance to do so. Line 5 is out of compliance with Enbridge’s own engineering standards.
Thank God that Michigan’s Governor Witmer and Attorney General Nessel are working to shut it down. Thank God that the Ojibwe people and their allies are trying to shut it down in Wisconsin. (See my piece four weeks ago here).
I hate that my consideration of Easter is forever clouded by this association. I hate that I have to devote bandwidth to this. But just since I last wrote here, a third iteration of the IPCC sixth assessment report has been released. For all of its length and detail, the message is clear and simple: humanity needs urgently to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And this responsibility, for the sake of justice as well as practicality, falls on wealthy countries – mainly us. I caught a bit of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ comments when the report was released. He said pointedly that: “Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
Line 5 is madness even apart from its contribution to the climate crisis because of its threat to the Great Lakes. Enbridge is fighting for it’s stupid tunnel solution and a sweetheart deal (looking at you Governor Snyder) to allow it to continue pumping petroleum for another 99 years. My federal hydrologist friend (now retired) says that this is nothing more than a cynical ploy to keep pumping oil for the 10 or more years it would take to build the tunnel. Kick the can down that road and enrich the stockholders and live to fight another day.
In the past week hundreds of scientists have publicly protested more petroleum development. A prominent NASA climate scientist, a dad, was arrested when he chained himself to the doors of a Los Angeles bank that funds climate-damaging petroleum development. A young scientist in my own specialty gave up her newly tenured position to work on climate crisis mitigation for an upstart NGO. Scientists are beside themselves trying to get people to pay attention.
Did you see any of this in the news?
On Easter Sunday, my church will meet together on a glacial hilltop looking east. For me, here in Wisconsin, that means looking east where over the horizon is Lake Michigan. I understand faithfulness to tradition and to the resurrection story. I will be there. I will watch the sunrise and listen for cranes and contemplate the tactile features of Easter sunrise on a muddy Midwestern hilltop. We engineer our consideration of Easter to be local, to gain power for our sense of place. I will sing with my community and celebrate redemption, but it is clouded. I’m a dad too. Creation is groaning. It’s over-taking and it cannot be ignored.
Easter is simultaneously the most earthy and transcendent moment of Christianity. What I cannot reconcile is our cavalier attitude toward the first half of that equation – our comfort in sitting with the injustice of it all. Our indifference to insulting the Creator with our carelessness. I don’t know how to tie this all together neatly. I am tired and angry and beaten.
But I will be there.