help_outline Skip to main content

News / Articles

Oil and the Great Lakes

Published on 12/18/2017

Oil and the Great Lakes – the Great Lakes are at the center of a massive North American oil economy.  Enbridge’s Line 5 carries 540,000 barrels per day from Canada using two (now) 64-year-old pipes laid along the bottom of the Great Lakes, through the Mackinaw Straights.  (Check out these really cool graphics to get an overview of Canada’s oil and the issue of moving it safely to refineries by clicking here!)

Critics say the pipes do not have an indefinite life span and this is the “worst possible place for an oil spill in all the Great Lakes because of the powerful...currents that flow either east or west depending on weather and water conditions.“ (1) 

Proponents state that pipelines are more efficient and safer than using rails, roads or shipping oil across the Great Lakes.  In addition, Michigan relies on the propane Line 5 delivers (65% of the propane that heats Upper Peninsula homes).  Last, according to some locals, Enbridge does a great job of maintenance and monitoring.

Recently, in response to demands from conservation groups and politicians of both parties, a new agreement was signed that calls for many things including shutting down the lines when waves in the Straights reach 8 feet or more, for more than 60 minutes.  The reason for stopping the flow in extreme weather is that corraling and recoving any spilled oil would not be possible.  There are many unknowns (how would a wintertime line rupture be addressed?, how would the current affect the dispersal of oil?, what will it take to move oil safely to refineries in the future?; etc.) and the issue is complex.


For an in-depth and fascinating coverage of this issue, see Dan Egan’s introduction to Oil and Water, Parts 1 and 2, at


For coverage on the recent agreement, see:



From Enbridge:


Advocacy groups:                    


For a fun and informative video (total 28 minutes but you don’t have to watch all of it), check out this link: They start their journey by sailboat in Lake Superior and end by sailing in the Mackinaw Straits.  (Yes, the title reflects their viewpoint but it‘s still interesting and educational – worth watching.)

Published on Jan 23, 2017   Great Lakes, Bad Lines  Discover the story of two Michigan born adventurers and their 500-mile, fossil-free journey across the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula along the route of Enbridge Oils Line 5, a 64-year-old pipeline that threatens our inland waters and Great Lakes. 

Through the lens of adventure, personal stories, and natural beauty, this film highlights the ecosystems and livelihoods that are at risk and inspires all to take action within their own lives.