Line 5 pipeline should be of concern for us all

There are some interesting similarities between the waters of the North Channel where they travel under the Little Current swing bridge and those of the Straits of Mackinac that flow under the Mackinac Bridge linking upper and lower Michigan—both sets of waters flow back and forth, depending on a number of environmental factors. That similarity is one of the factors that make Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline a concern for anybody with a connection to the waters of two of the Great Lakes—Huron and Superior.

Scientific data indicates quite conclusively that the ebb and flow of currents through the Straits of Mackinac guarantee that anything that spills into the waters in that region will alternately impact Lake Superior and Lake Huron. We are front and centre on that firing line.

There are safeguards in place to ensure that a major catastrophe does not come to pass. Those safeguards have proven to be quite inadequate to prevent spills along other, more accessible parts of the pipeline, but even more troubling are the revelations that the company operating the pipeline was found to be out of compliance with those safeguards.

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Compounding the issue in this age of terrorism, a cloak of secrecy lies across most details of the pipeline and its operations and inspections. Many of the normal checks and balances provided through transparency and accountability are thereby short circuited.

Pipelines are efficient, cost-effective means of transporting natural gas, crude, gasoline and a host of other fossil fuels and there is a massive economic benefit associated with pipelines, for all Canadians. They are arguably safer and less prone to spills than the alternatives of rail or truck transport. But, and this is a very big but, when they do fail us, they fail us in a very big way with clearly demonstrated massive economic and environmental costs—we know all about oil spills, in some cases through dealing with spills in other lengths of the Line 5 line.

There are those who will quickly point out that if you factor in all of the costs associated with our dependence on fossil fuels, pipelines are not at all efficient or cost-effective when placed up against the clean energy alternatives and conservation. In time, that argument will win out. The mere fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource will establish the truth of that argument even if no other appeal to reason does in the meantime.

But that day remains somewhat distant. So we are left with the question of how to proceed down the road to ever increasing climate change perdition. Do we proceed with breakneck speed, damning the environmental torpedoes and trusting to luck the goodwill of massive faceless corporate entities to protect our interests? We would argue that gamble is not worth the throw of the dice. Do we shut down all pipelines, cancel all oilsand leases and take the economic hit for the benefit of mankind—probably a better choice, but not one that will find any traction in creating the political will or capital necessary to actually make it happen.

We all want to save the world, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything to do so.

So in practical terms, a balance must be found. But it is a balance that must take into account that 40 million people depend on those waters for their drinking water.

But while pumping heavy fossil fuel products through a more than half-century-old pipeline vulnerably laid out across one of the most environmentally fragile and significant waterways on the Great Lakes may be the least expensive short term option for the pipeline company and its shareholders, and therefore in the convoluted calculus that lies behind corporate math the most desirable, it simply isn’t in our best interests or the long-term interests of the company itself. The cost of a significant spill in those waters would devastate the share prices and dividends of even so massive a corporation as Enbridge.

One of the main justifications for the modern democratic state and its impositions on the conduct of our individual lives is the duty to protect society from our worst instincts. Leaving a corporate entity, essentially a creature of sociopathic conscience, to oversee the inspection and remediation of an aging pipeline is not in at all in our collective best interests. Giving a corporation (or government for that matter) the cloak of national security to place over their operations ups the ante on the environmental gamble almost to the point of making the use of the pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac something of a Hail Mary pass.

Laying a pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac was simply a bad idea. It remains a bad idea a half-century later and is only compounded by the age of that pipeline and the complications inherent in maintaining the required security blanket that keeps us all in the dark.

If a pipeline is needed to transport those materials from the west to our eastern refineries another option must be found. If it cannot be afforded, then it simply does not make economic sense and the idea should be abandoned for the sake of all of our best interests.