Michigan advocates lay out alternatives to controversial Line 5

Enbridge is facing mounting pressure to decommission a pipeline system spanning the two Michigan peninsulas, but that could actually mean more pipelines.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Jan. 18, 2018 at 8:01 AM
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Jan. 18 (UPI) -- An advocacy group said it was advising Michigan leaders on how to close a pipeline system spanning the two peninsulas, but doing without it won't be easy.

Part of a regional network of pipelines, Line 5, runs through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, through the turbulent Straits of Mackinac and then east to Ontario. In December, waves as high as 9 feet were recorded and an agreement with the state says Enbridge has to shut the line down during sustained periods of inclement weather.

Line 5 is part of a broader network of pipelines and can carry as much as 540,000 barrels of oil per day. Under agreements with the state, the company needs to conduct a study on the feasibility of building a new system in the Straits of Mackinac and ways to mitigate risk.

A coalition of advocacy groups said the pace was too slow and outlined steps it said were needed to shut down the 65-year-old Line 5 network for good. Dealing primarily with propane for Michigan's sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, the group said smaller pipelines, rail and trucks could help bridge the supply gap.

For oil, a smaller pipeline for the Lower Peninsula, or some combination of truck and rail, could backstop supplies.

James Clift, the executive director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said in statements emailed to UPI that Enbridge wasn't doing its part to ensure the network is secured.

In August, the Michigan State Police, Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, and the Michigan Agency for Energy said they were concerned by gaps in the protective coating on parts of Line 5 in the straits, at least one of which was caused when Enbridge installed new supportive anchors. Recent inspections revealed dozens of gaps across the span of the pipeline.

"Adopting this plan is an opportunity for the state to be transparent and ensure our Great Lakes are protected from a devastating oil spill," Clift said.

The advocacy groups added that Line 5 is a shortcut through Michigan for refineries in Ontario. Sandy Fielden, the director of oil and products research for Morningstar, said it's correct to say the system primarily serves the Canadian market, but the region as a whole would need to replace the 450,000 barrels of oil from someplace, namely U.S. shale oil reserves.

"Replacing those supplies would require a new pipeline to be built on land that would have its own implications," he told UPI. "In other words, the shortcut would require an alternative long way around to replace."

Michigan already has some of the highest prices for gasoline in the country, thanks in part to a fuels tax that went into effect last year. The Michigan Agency for Energy said modeling done for Line 5 provisions, from abandoning the pipeline system altogether to building a new one, range from a $2.13 per gallon increase to 1 cent, respectively.

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