Starting a Movement in the Great Lakes

Great Blue Heron covered in oil from the Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Great Blue Heron covered in oil from the Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan Photo/David Kenyon
In 2010, the largest and costliest oil spill in our nation’s history tore into the Kalamazoo River and its wetlands. An oil pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge Energy, the Canadian tar sands pipeline giant responsible for more than 800 oil spills since 1999—dumped over 1 million gallons of raw crude tar sands oil into wetlands and down the Kalamazoo River.

Despite its size and extreme devastation of the river, the tar sands oil spill was quickly forgotten by the media. And some neighbors along the river fell silent as Enbridge purchased their houses and oil-slicked yards in exchange for signing non-disclosure forms that ensure their silence.

However, there were many voices that did not back down, growing in strength and volume as they fought for Enbridge to clean up the destruction and for new rules on tar sands pipelines to stop dangerous and poorly monitored pipelines from putting our waters at risk.

Pipelines stretch across the Midwest,  including in the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, where Enbridge energy has a sixty year old pipeline called Line 5 that is strung across the Strait through the deep, cold, and fast flowing water. Right now, Enbridge is pushing for permits to pump even more oil through the aging pipeline, including corrosive tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.  The threat of these aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac to the Great Lakes is exposed in NWF’s report, Sunken Hazard.

Michigan Hero in Fight Against Tar Sands

One of the leaders in the movement to protect the Great Lakes from pipeline spills is Beth Wallace, an NWF staffer in our Great Lakes Regional Center and a native of the communities that were impacted by the Enbridge pipeline disaster. Watch Beth Wallace’s personal story of experiencing the oil disaster, and mobilizing to fight poorly-regulated and highly risky pipelines.

Now, climate leader and founder of, Bill McKibben, is naming Beth Wallace as one of the heroes in the fight against tar sands pipelines. McKibben writes:

In July 2010, a 30-foot-long section of the Enbridge Energy Pipeline ruptured just downstream of Marshall, Michigan. Almost one million gallons of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sands gushed first into Talmadge Creek and then 35 miles down the Kalamazoo River.

Beth Wallace grew up along the banks of the river and was there to see the spill. “The entire river was filled with oil,” she says. “A muskrat was desperately trying to clean itself and was failing miserably.”

Beth is spearheading a public campaign on pipeline safety in the Great Lakes and starting a movement opposing the expansion and use of tar sands oil. “The oil and gas industry has been able to get away with business as usual for a long time without too many people asking questions, including our regulators.” Wallace says. “Now people are asking the important questions and demanding answers and, in many cases, demanding change.”

Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes

On Sunday, July 14th neighbors from across Michigan are coming together for a rally at the Straits of Mackinac, to tell Enbridge we will not allow tar sands oil to spill into our freshwater seas!

Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline runs under the straits of Mackinac.  Photo: MDOT
Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline runs under the straits of Mackinac. Photo: MDOT
Enbridge’s plan to pump a oil at higher pressures in the pipeline and to pump corrosive tar sands oil through aging oil pipeline threatens the Great Lakes. That’s why organizers from Traverse City 350, along with National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Land Use Institute and many other environmental organizations, have created Oil and Water Don’t Mix: A Rally for the Great Lakes to focus attention on the threat of a pipeline leak in the Straits of Mackinac.

The rally will include speakers who will inform and motivate all us to action:

  • Bill McKibben Keynote and co-founder of, will share news about climate action from around the world, and how action from Great Lakes region can make a massive impact.
  • National Wildlife Federation policy expert, Beth Wallace, will describe the risk that Enbridge’s Line 5 poses to the Great Lakes, as described in the report “Sunken Hazard.”
  • Citizens from Kalamazoo will testify to the damage in their river.
  • Friends from Detroit will describe the injustice of living with pet coke piles from Canadian tar sands.
  • Noted Great Lakes author Jerry Dennis and Michigan musicians from Earthwork Music will inspire us to action with our love for our sweetwater seas.

If you can attend, bring your picnic lunch, a picnic blanket, and connect with others after the rally. Later that afternoon, you can watch sailboats from the Chicago to Mackinac race sailing under the Mighty Mackinac Bridge.

Learn more about how to attend the rally—buses are traveling there from cities across Michigan. If you can join us at the rally, let us know to look for you there by emailing