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Gas pipeline company proposes switch to crude oil transport

A pipeline that supplies much of Michigan's natural gas could be shut down ... and converted to carry crude oil. That's sparked a number of concerns from business and government.

Natural gas is plentiful and cheap right now.

That's why a Texas company filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- or FERC --  in July to shut down 770 miles of transmission lines across several states. It would either abandon them ... or eventually use the pipes to carry crude oil.

And that could affect how much a lot of people in Michigan will pay to heat their homes and businesses.

The pipeline owned by Trunkline Gas Company crosses into Branch County from Indiana. That's where Consumers Energy connects to it ... and distributes the natural gas to 45 counties in the Lower Peninsula.

Dan Bishop is a Consumers Energy spokesman. He says Consumers depends on Trunkline for 60 percent of the gas it supplies to 1.7 million customers in Michigan.

Consumers Energy has filed an objection to Trunkline's plan.

“Trunkline has certain contractual requirements with Consumers, and our belief and concern is that if this proposal is approved, there could be serious reliability and service issues following that.”

Bishop says Consumers wants Trunkline to withdraw its proposal as a bad idea.

“If they don't do that, ideally FERC would deny the request. If they don't deny this request, we're asking FERC to conduct a comprehensive hearing, an evidentiary hearing on Trunkline's request.”

Governor Rick Snyder, the Michigan Public Service Commission and a coalition of large businesses, called ABATE have also filed objections to the proposed pipeline shutdown.

Tamara Young Allen is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman.

She says converting gas pipelines to crude oil isn't unusual, but she couldn't comment specifically on the Michigan case ... because the matter is still pending.
“But I can tell you generally that the Commission will take all comments into consideration before making a decision. The Commission is comprised of five presidentially appointed members who serve five-year terms.”

Young Allen says FERC does not regulate the siting of oil pipelines. She says states make those decisions.

Trunkline Gas Company did not respond to requests for comment.