Youth Protest of Line 5 Pipeline

by Xanthe Saalmann - Sophomore Madison Country Day School - Editor of The Connection

On Thursday, April 14th, high schoolers took a stand against Line 5, a corroding oil and natural gas pipeline that fossil fuel company Enbridge plans to expand.

Every day, Line 5 pumps 22 million gallons of natural gas and crude oil through northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Enbridge has been running Line 5 since its creation in 1953, and over 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas (over 1.5 Olympic swimming pools!) have been spilled. Luckily, Line 5 has not detected any spills in vulnerable places yet, a fact that Enbridge proudly boasts on their website as though this means that Line 5 will never spill in the future. However, considering Enbridge’s plan to further expand Line 5, and Line 5’s corroding facade, the likelihood of a spill is only increasing.


Similar to many industrial projects, Line 5 disproportionately impacts Indigenous people. The Bad River Ojibwe people of northern Wisconsin are at risk of a Line 5 spill that could damage their waterways, and oil spills in the 12 mile stretch of Line 5 running through the reservation could even reach Lake Superior. Floods in the Bad River reservation in 2016 eroded much of Line 5’s support, exacerbating the risk of an oil spill that would damage the Bad River watershed.

In 2019, as tensions between the Bad River tribe and Enbridge increased, the Bad River tribe filed a lawsuit against Enbridge. In response, Enbridge plans to relocate 41 miles of Line 5 around the reservation. This relocation does not benefit the Bad River people; instead, it frees Enbridge from legal disputes over treaty rights while maintaining the risk of a spill that would contaminate Bad River drinking water and ecosystems.

Enbridge, of course, preaches of Line 5’s benefits. It states that Line 5 brings jobs to the community, thus helping their economy. What Enbridge ignores, however, is that industrial projects are often associated with a “boom-and-bust” economy; that is, it will bring employment and prosperity during the pipeline’s construction, but when the pipeline construction inevitably ends, many people will find themselves jobless with a pipeline that may subsequently bring costly spills.


A Line 5 spill in the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan would have particularly calamitous consequences. A spill would harm up to 47 species, and 100 square miles of unique habitats, including the endangered piping plovers and Beaver Island. The main concern, however, is in regards to the Great Lakes. The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, meaning that a spill here, although largely spilling into Lake Huron, could also contaminate Lake Michigan, harming both lakes at once. A spill in the Great Lakes means harming up to 84% of North America’s freshwater, and 21% of the world’s freshwater. Only 30% of the oil would be recovered, and these damage control efforts would cost $2 to $6 billion dollars.