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Line 5 shut down shows Enbridge not ready for a leak, say activists

Up Hell's Creek Camp
Activists say they spent about an hour at an exposed section of oil pipeline in Tuscola County after calling 911 and the emergency phone number for the pipeline operator to inform officials that they were going to manually shut down the flow of oil, and police arrived only after the activists had left.

Activists who caused Enbridge to temporarily shut down its Line 5 oil pipeline earlier this week said the slow emergency response to their actions show the company is not prepared to handle an oil spill.

A group of demonstrators gathered at an exposed section of the pipeline near Vassar in Tuscola County on Tuesday and called both 911 and Enbridge’s emergency number to tell the officials that they were going to manually turn a valve at the site and shut down the line.

Then, activists said, they waited.

One shimmied under a fence, cut a lock, and spent half an hour cranking the shutoff valve with a pipe wrench. Another set up an electric guitar, microphone and amplifier and played an impromptu concert, video from the event shows.

In all, protestors were at the valve site for about an hour.

Police only arrived after they left, said one of the demonstrators, Peatmoss Ellis.

“In an oil spill, seconds matter. It took many minutes -- close to an hour -- to turn off the flow of oil, and even longer than that for there to be any emergency response,” said Ellis.

Enbridge said it shut off the pipeline early in the incident, as soon as its control room got the call that demonstrators were going to handle the valve.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy said the line would have shut off automatically, even if no one had called, as soon as its monitoring system detected a change in pressure.

Far from demonstrating a safety failure in Enbridge’s systems, Duffy said, the protestors’ actions were themselves dangerous.

“It was a criminal activity that put people and the environment at risk,” Duffy said.

“The groups involved in Tuesday’s incident claim to be protecting the environment, but they do the opposite and put the safety of people at risk – including themselves, first responders and neighboring communities and landowners,” said Duffy.

He said he could not speculate on exactly what danger people or the environment faced as a result of the protestors handling Enbridge’s equipment.

The Tuscola County sheriff’s office did not respond to several voicemails seeking comment on its response to the protestors’ emergency call.

Michigan State Police spokesperson Kim Vetter said the rural location of the valve site in Tuscola County hampered law enforcement’s response time.

“There are not a lot of police agencies that service that area, and the law enforcement that was on duty at the time responded as quickly as they could,” Vetter said. “Our response was appropriate for the situation we had.”

Vetter said police are investigating the incident. Enbridge is encouraging their efforts.

“We take this very seriously and will support the prosecution of all those involved,” said Duffy.

Several organizations that oppose Enbridge’s operation of Line 5 criticized the demonstration.

State Rep. John Damoose called the activists “domestic terrorists.”

“The perpetrators attacked a part of our critical infrastructure to further their political aims,” said a spokesperson for Damoose.

Damoose is a Republican who represents a district straddling the Straits of Mackinac, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, ordered Enbridge to shut down the flow of oil through Line 5 last year.