Opinion: Michigan's future runs through Line 5
When it comes to providing energy resources to Michigan, there is perhaps no asset more vital than Line 5, a major energy pipeline that for decades has brought Canadian crude oil and natural gas liquids into the state.
Today, through a 1,100-mile pipeline into the state, Line 5 safely and reliably delivers 23 million gallons of crude product to Michigan markets and supplies about two thirds of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula. These are important facts given that Michigan is what you may call "energy remote," lacking its own proven energy reserves, and that the Natural Gas Supply Association says a record high for natural gas could be on its way.
Unfortunately, Line 5 is in danger. That’s because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel show no signs of approving a plan by the pipeline’s owner, Enbridge, to proactively replace the 66-year-old pipeline with a new and modernized version. Like the existing pipeline, the new version would run beneath the Great Lakes in the Straits of Mackinac and deliver 540,000 barrels daily. Instead of supporting a bipartisan bill that passed the Michigan Legislature last December that finalized the Line 5 upgrade, Nessel has used her legal power to stonewall the project.
But while energy resources in a new and improved Line 5 may not yet be flowing, misinformation about the project certainly is. That’s why it’s important that the people of Michigan understand the real truth about the project.
For starters, the project is much needed. A potential shutdown of Line 5 by Michigan politicians could mean that many in the state are left in the cold. That is an especially dangerous prospect given estimates of enhanced demand for natural gas this winter.
Second, the project won’t cost taxpayers a dime, an unusual feature of an infrastructure project of this size and scale. In fact, Enbridge will pay the entire $500 million price tag, and the economic impact of which will benefit Michigan communities in the form of tax revenues and wages.
Third, and perhaps most important, the proposal places a premium on safety. For example, Enbridge plans to encase the pipeline in a reinforced concrete tunnel that will provide access for maintenance crews and monitoring systems. This physical infrastructure would be supplemented by around-the-clock monitoring of the crossing by both human and automated resources, regular inspections that use inline tools, expert divers and remote operating vehicles, and the application of advanced technology in collaboration with Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center. In addition to that, Enbridge plans to operate the line at less than a quarter of its maximum design capabilities to minimize stress on the pipeline.
These improvements would only strengthen a pipeline that continues to operate safely, despite its nearly seven decades of service.
Liquids pipelines deliver their products safely 99.999% of the time, and incidents that impact people or the environment continue to fall even as pipeline deliveries increase. The reality, too, is that nearly three quarters of all incidents in the energy transportation chain happen in operators’ facilities and not mid-route. The alternative to pipelines — putting more huge tanker truckers on Michigan highways — is much riskier.
Paul Griffin is the executive director of Energy Fairness, a nonprofit energy policy organization that brings together consumers, policymakers and other stakeholders to discuss energy policy in a fact-based, nonpartisan manner.