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New report highlights risks of Enbridge Line 5 pipeline

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

A report on Enbridge Energy's Line 5 pipeline titled “Canadian Profits, Michigan Risk” was released by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities Wednesday morning.

Line 5, constructed in 1953, sits across the bottom of the Mackinac Straits. It transports light crude oil and a much smaller amount of natural gas liquids to refineries in Canada and the Midwest. Some Line 5 propane is sold in the Upper Peninsula.

A ship’s anchor made three dents in Line 5 on April 1, 2018. Public opposition to Line 5 has been building since a major 2010 oil spill of another Michigan pipeline and a 2014 study of the dangers Line 5, which is owned by Enbridge, Inc., could pose to the Great Lakes in the event of an oil spill of its own. The report highlights these incidents as wake-up calls, alerting people to the “very real” risk of oil spilling into the Straits.

The report goes on to show how the other existing pipelines that cover North America will allow Michigan to have sufficient oil supplies, even if Line 5 is shut down. It also details how the pipeline is a greater benefit to Canada than to Michigan.

Groundwork acknowledges in the report that a small part of Line 5 product is used to heat homes and business in the Upper Peninsula. However, it proposes delivering propane to the U.P. using trucks instead. If this were to cause extra costs for consumers, Groundwork suggests using Michigan’s clean energy fund to offset the cost.

Jim Lively, program director at Groundwork and one of the principal authors of the report, spoke to Stateside about the situation on Wednesday. He said Line 5 has become largely a convenient shortcut for Canada-- the country has not been able to get approval for their own pipelines in recent years.

“This oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac is actually a Canadian pipeline serving Canada,” Lively said. “We need to really be looking at why we would take this risk when it's not benefiting Michigan's residents at all.”

In 2017, Governor Snyder made a private deal with Enbridge to study replacement options for the pipeline. He’s promised to make a decision regarding next steps for Line 5 by September 2018.

One possible option is to replace the current pipeline with a tunnel-enclosed one in the same spot. Lively thinks Snyder should instead shut down the entire operation.

“The idea of a tunnel is certainly not an immediate solution. At the best, we’re talking about seven years before we would see that solution implemented, which means in Snyder’s proposal seven more years of risk in the Straits of Mackinac,” Lively said.

Enbridge is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio. They responded to the report via an email statement Wednesday morning.

“Last year’s Alternative Analysis report showed that Line 5 was the safest and best way to transport natural gas liquids (NGL.s) that are turned into propane. The overall issue of alternatives was addressed by the Alternatives Analysis study. It determined other transport modes, such as Great Lakes barges, rail and trucks would not be viable options due to higher risks to safety, reliability and affordability. And it noted correctly that the existing pipeline infrastructure through the region is either at capacity or dedicated to other products and could not handle the products or capacity transported by Line 5. Line 5 moves more than half of the propane used in the State of Michigan used to heat homes and businesses.”

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