The California oil spill: haunting similarities to Line 5 in Michigan

Washtenaw Climate Reality

The October 2021 California oil spill off the Pacific Ocean shores of Los Angeles provides us with a haunting and realistic picture of what can happen at the Straits of Mackinac if Line 5 were to be struck by a ship anchor or corrode and release crude oil into the environment. The Enbridge Energy Line 5 and the California Amplify Pipeline have similarities and are examples of fossil fuel transport companies’ complete disregard for the environment and the shoreline communities. The most recent California oil spill occurred 40 miles south of Los Angeles and 5 miles out into the Pacific Ocean, which was caused by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation (Amplify). The following are some striking similarities:

  • Amplify– an estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, has spread into an oil slick covering about 13 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Enbridge Line 5– As a worst-case scenario 2.5 million gallons would be released by a Line 5 breakage covering over 700 square miles. 
  • Amplify– the impacted area includes shoreline tourist areas such as Huntington Beach down to Newport Beach, areas popular with tourists and rich with wildlife.
  • Enbridge Line 5– the impacted area would encompass the critical shorelines of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron that is a high tourist area in Michigan and contains a rich aquatic system.   
Environmental cleanup crews work in Huntington Beach on October 5, 2021
  • Amplify– according to the State of California Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Amplify/Beta Offshore has received 53 warnings and 72 severe citations for violations of its safety or environmental standards. 
  • Enbridge Line 5– there have been over 84 fines issued by the State of Michigan to Enbridge totaling $271 million in fines.
  • Amplify– the pipeline connecting two oil platforms to Long Beach refinery was built in the 1960s and well beyond the expected operational life
  • Enbridge Line 5– the pipeline was constructed in 1953 and is well beyond the 50-year operational life. 
  • Amplify– it is possible that a ship anchor was the reason for the oil discharge and is being investigated by the State of California.
  • Enbridge Line 5– Line 5 has been struck by ship anchors one to three times in the Straits that date back to the late 1970s, 2018 and 2020. Anchor strikes are the number one risk to the pipeline; in 2018 a 12,000-pound anchor accidentally dropped into the Straits, which sliced five cables, and dented the dual Line 5 pipeline.
  • Amplify– Governor Newsom declares a state emergency as beaches and wildlife are impacted by the oil spill; no financial impact costs have been identified to date.
  • Enbridge Line 5– Michigan would be required to initiate a $1-2 billion clean upon based upon a worst-case Line 5 discharge scenario and the overall economic damage to the State of Michigan would be an estimated $6 billion. Enbridge does not have enough bond money dedicated to a Line 5 spill cleanup nor are they legally liable for cleanup actions to the State of Michigan.
A staff member of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife examines a sanderling that was affected by the oil in Huntington Beach
  • Amplify– the California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered a fishery closure for coastal areas affected by the spill which heavily impacts commercial and tourist fisherman.
  • Enbridge Line 5– a Line 5 discharge would also have devastating effects on the local commercial and tourist fishery. Treaty agreements with Tribal governments that guarantee high quality and sustained water resources would not be upheld.
  • Amplify– there is currently a criminal investigation as to why there was a slow response to the pipeline breakage and discharge; it took over 12 hours after the leak was observed for Amplify to respond.
  • Enbridge Line 5– Enbridge employees monitoring the pipeline from a control room in Alberta, Canada, took 17 hours to realize a rupture had occurred in the Kalamazoo River. By then, 843,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in what is now recognized as the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The California Amplify oil spill gives us a chance to witness first-hand the effects of a pipeline oil spill and how it would suddenly affect the quality of life for the State of Michigan residents. The similarities between the California Amplify and Enbridge Line 5 pipelines are striking and are a cause for concern. 

What you can do: Contact your state and federal representatives and demand that Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline be shut down. Sign this petition to ask President Biden to support Gov. Whitmer’s action to decommission Line 5. The economic and resource future of the State of Michigan depends upon our actions.

Please check out the following videos and website for additional Line 5 information:

Thanks to Art Hirsch for writing this article. Art is working hard to protect our glorious and unique Great Lakes, and shutting down Line 5 is a key part of that. Thanks, Art!

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