Opinion: Refusing pipeline dig buries Michigan economy
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is already going back on her campaign-trail promises to improve Michigan's infrastructure and create jobs.
On her first day in office, she took preliminary steps to block a major infrastructure project — the upgrade of the Line 5 crude oil and natural gas pipelines that provide residents of the Upper Peninsula with fuel to heat their homes. Now, Whitmer has halted work on Line 5, while she discusses the project's future with the company behind it.
The pipelines rest at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. Enbridge Inc., a Canadian energy company, wants to replace the old pipelines with a single line buried 100 feet below the lake bed to reduce the risk of spills. The upgrade would help keep our Great Lakes clean while providing Michigan residents with energy security and more jobs. There's no legitimate reason to stall the project.
Enbridge constructed Line 5, which consists of two 20-inch pipelines, in 1953. Thanks to 24/7 monitoring by humans and automated sensors, regular inspections and proactive maintenance, the portion crossing the straits has never experienced a leak.
To maintain this impeccable safety record, engineers have proposed decommissioning the current pipelines and replacing them with a single pipeline buried in a tunnel about 100 feet beneath the bottom of the straits. The lake bed, and the marine life that live there, would remain undisturbed.
The tunnel would be reinforced by a concrete liner over a foot thick. In the extremely unlikely event of a pipeline failure, any spilled fuel would have to break through both the tunnel and 100 feet of bedrock before it could contaminate the Great Lakes.
In other words, critics' warnings of oil spills and environmental disruption are nothing but baseless fearmongering.
In fact, blocking construction of the new pipeline would be more likely to result in spills. Shipping energy via pipelines is four times safer than transporting it by rail, the method that would likely replace Line 5 should it be entirely decommissioned. Transporting fuel by truck is even riskier.
Over 150,000 Michigan residents rely on fuel provided by Line 5 every day. Make no mistake: these residents need to get their fuel from somewhere. Forcing them to do so by rail or tanker-truck would only drive up costs and increase the risk of spills.
The new Line 5 would be a boon to Michigan's economy. The $500 million project would be paid for entirely by Enbridge, not taxpayers. The company already pays more than $60 million in annual pipeline-related property taxes to the State of Michigan and nearly $8 million in wages to Michigan employees every year.
Blocking the project would vaporize all these benefits and cost hundreds of workers a good job.
With all the economic and environmental upside a revamped Line 5 would bring, Whitmer should be chomping at the bit to start construction. Instead, she's considering nixing the project. For the sake of Michigan workers and consumers, let's hope she makes the right call.
Amelia Hamilton is a Traverse City native who writes at RedState and Michigan Capitol Confidential, and is the author of the Growing Patriots series of children’s books.