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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.

Tim Van Deelen

Tim Van Deelen is Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan, and graduated from Calvin College. From there he went on to the University of Montana and Michigan State University. He now studies large mammal population dynamics, sails on Lake Mendota, enjoys a good plate of whitefish, and gains hope for the future from terrific graduate students. 


  • Alicia Mannes says:

    This organization has some further information regarding this

    Thank you for your wise and timely words!

  • John Paarlberg says:

    Thank you for this, Tim. It is also worth noting that many of the participants in the Reformed Church in America retirement plans are invested in the Fidelity Freedom Funds which include numerous holdings in fossil fuel companies, including Enbridge. The caption for a New Yorker cartoon read: “Yes, the planet got destroyed but for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.” Divesting from fossil fuels is one way to resist this “moral and economic madness.”

  • Jim says:

    Thankyou Tim. I’m an old stick-in-the-mud-gas-guzzling-loving-drill-for-more-oil guy. I’m wrong. It’s past time. Way past time. Stop the madness. I’m with you. Thankyou for being who you are and for doing what you do. It matters. Keep on keepin’ on. Peace in all of it. Happy Easter.

  • Ralph Postma says:

    I live one mile from the Mighty Mac, and have listened to the arguments from both sides of the discussion. The oil will be moved-if not by the pipeline, then by other means. The new proposed tunnel is by far the safest way to transport the oil we need here in Northern Michigan.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Amen! Everything you write needs to be read, especially by those who live in the state that raised me. I can’t put into words the power and awe of the Great Lakes. I wonder if it might help to shape the story of climate change and the consequences of our actions in another way. In truth, we will not destroy creation. Creation thrived and bore the image of the creator for billions of years without us, and if we keep down this road and make it inhabitable for us, it will likely thrive for billions of years after we destroy ourselves. Creation suffers, moans with labor pains but like the ice age and the extinction level event of a comet, creation will give birth to new life after we have died by our own hands.
    I may be wrong about this, and creation will suffer tremendously as our actions destroy its beauty, but I can’t help but hope that a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse.
    At any rate, thank you for the writing. As always haunting and inspiring.

  • Susan Fey says:

    You’re right. I don’t remember any coverage of this gob smacking incident. It is sickening, to imagine seeing, hearing, feeling that menacing hulk as it plowed through 400 miles of lake bottom. To imagine everything that could move, fleeing from its’ path. And everything that could not being forever disrupted or destroyed. I did not grow up in a faith tradition. I completely understand your weariness and your anger. And I also understand that your faith holds you in a place of desperate engagement. Mine, such as it is, does as well. Thank you for this powerful piece Tim.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    I can’t imagine the pain and moral exhaustion you carry, Tim. My admiration for you is inexhaustible. While so many of us have assumed the apocalyptic is here and the non-human world helplessly is disappearing, you continue, placing a working hope within your loving anger and despair. You are our NOBLE Recipient.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I can’t tell you how much I look forward to your posts every time. You are our prophet, and it’s painful and no fun to be a prophet, and your love has to be profound to keep doing it. Thank you.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Heart-ripping truth. Courageous. Beautifully done.
    Have you seen “Dopesick” yet? It is reminiscent…the power, the money, the greed, the brutal deception and willful blindness….
    With the end result of massive human suffering.
    You did powerful work in this piece. Thank you so much.

  • Keith says:

    What a great Easter message. Not!
    I hope everyone that is against fossil fuel drive electric cars and has solar on your roof to charge them. You surely wouldn’t use electric generated by fossil fuels.

    Abortion causes lots more pain than fossil fuels.


    Tim is incorrect. Line 5 does not carry Bakken Formation (aka tar sands) petroleum products. These products are necessary for life until renewables become economically reasonable and 100 percent reliable. Putting line 5 in its own tunnel is a reasonable solution.

    • Tim Van Deelen says:

      From Tim Van Deelen:

      The text below is copied directly from the Draft Environmental Impact State for the Line 5 project in Wisconsin (page 5) . It can be accessed at: EL5_DraftEIS_Dec2021_Vol1-DEIS.pdf ( Transported Products and Sources

      Line 5 is used to transport unconventional light crude and NGLs extracted and processed from the “oil sands” (or “tar sands”) of northern Alberta Canada, and the shale oil of the Bakken Formation of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan Canada. Line 5 provides transport of these raw products to refineries in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada, delivering feedstock that is refined into propane, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other products. NGLs are processed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to supply propane for regional cooking, heating and power demands, and NGLs are re-introduced into Line 5 in the Upper Peninsula for transport to Sarnia in Ontario Canada.

    • Tim Van Deelen says:

      We can disagree about what is “reasonable”, I obviously think that the risk to the Great Lakes from 2 damaged and exposed pipelines in unreasonable and a disaster waiting to happen. Enbridge’s fear-mongering aside, there are other ways to provide fossil fuels locally to bridge the transition to renewables. But that transition needs to happen soon (urgently!), and retiring risky transportation though line 5, which threatens to catastrophically pollute both Lakes Superior and Michigan/Huron is the low-hanging fruit. If Enbridge wanted to demonstrate good faith, it could shut down the pipeline *until* the tunnel gets built (but it obviously won’t) – otherwise the tunnel is simply a ploy to let them keep using line 5 as it is for however long it takes to build the fanciful tunnel. Finally, we cannot assume that the tunnel is feasible or safe. That analysis is on-going at the Army Corps of Engineers, who as I recall, have agreed that the cumulative impacts to the climate crisis need to be considered. Even so, as the IPCC mitigation report emphasizes, its madness for humanity to be investing in more fossil fuel infrastructure.

  • Jacqui says:

    Amen.. Amen. Ah I’m so grateful to read this.

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