There are viable, cost-effective shipping alternatives to the contested Line 5 pipeline in Michigan—both for crude oil and natural gas—according to a new report that contradicts Enbridge’s claim the pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure for refineries in Michigan, Ontario, and Quebec.
“Enbridge continues to insist that the safest way to move oil is through pipelines,” writes [pdf] Environmental Defence Canada, in its overview of a research report authored by Martin Meyers of Meyers Energy Consulting, LLC, a firm whose past clients include Shell, Irving, and fossil consultancy behemoth, Cambridge Research Energy Associates. “This could not be further from the truth.”
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Commissioned by Environmental Defence to test Enbridge’s claim that both sides of the border will see crippling supply and price disruptions if the pipeline is shuttered, Meyers argues that the closure of Line 5 would be manageable. EDC concludes there are safer options to meet demand for oil and gasoline in Canada without Line 5, which starts in Wisconsin and runs through Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario.
EDC says a rupture in the 69-year-old pipeline, now 19 years past its designed lifespan, is a “definite possibility” that could engulf over 1,100 kilometres of shoreline along lakes Michigan and Huron. Line 5 has already sprung at least 29 leaks since 1953, the group writes, spilling at least 4.5 million litres of oil into surrounding lands and waters. Numerous safety violations have occurred and the pipeline has been in “a state of ill repair,” with a worst-case spill estimated to cost anywhere between $1.8 and $6.3 billion, not including impacts to Canadian shorelines.
“While there are no good options for transporting oil, in the case of this aged and dangerous pipeline, exploring other options is not only reasonable, but necessary,” EDC writes. One solution would be for Enbridge to use its Line 78 pipeline instead. Built in 2010 to replace Line 6B after its catastrophic rupture near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, Line 78 runs from Illinois to Sarnia, and is not being used to its full capacity, states the overview. Enbridge need only make upgrades to Line 78’s pumping facilities, without any changes necessary on the pipeline to make the switch.
Existing rail capacity and/or tankers could make up any remaining shortfall from closing Line 5, with an estimated two to three additional trains per day needed on existing routes that already transport oil. Or Enbridge could use marine tankers, with one additional ship or less needed on routes that already serve the Valero refinery in Quebec.
For the Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) currently moved by Line 5, Enbridge would likely need to find another route. But alternate NGLs sources exist in nearby regions, and “with an orderly shutdown of Line 5, the projected cost of alternatives essentially goes unfelt by consumers, with a 1.8¢ increase in gasoline.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is driving efforts to shutter the pipeline on environmental grounds, has a plan in place to address NGLs shortages in her state’s Upper Peninsula, where residents have historically drawn heating fuel from Line 5. Investment in rail infrastructure as well as storage, “plus other programs to reduce propane demand, help low-income customers pay their propane bills, and increase the state’s ability to monitor propane supplies,” are all part of Whitmer’s effort to shutter Line 5 and move beyond its dependence, reports Bridge Michigan.
Opposition to the pipeline is also strong amongst environmental groups and Indigenous nations on both sides of the border. The report “reaffirms essentially what we’ve been saying all along here in the state of Michigan and from our respective tribal nations, that Line 5 can be decommissioned and shut down with minimal impacts,” Whitney Gravelle of the Bay Mills Indian Community in northern Michigan told Bridge Michigan. But Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy dismissed the alternatives presented in the report, saying Line 78 is not able to transport natural gas liquids and is, in any case, already “substantially full.” He added that adding rail capacity would take years to permit and build.
“To replace the energy being delivered by Line 5 with other methods, such as tanker trucks or rail cars, is not in the best interest of the environment or the safety of the public,” Duffy said.
Canada’s federal government has tried to intervene in support of keeping Line 5 open by invoking a 1977 energy treaty. Urging Ottawa to abandon its “uncritical acceptance of the arguments made by Enbridge regarding the options available,” the report warns that “the closure of Line 5 is inevitable, either through court order or due to a rupture.”
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