Our editorial: Let facts decide pipeline fate

The Detroit News

Decisions about the fate of the petroleum pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac should be based solely on what’s necessary to protect the Great Lakes, and not to serve a broader anti-carbon agenda or political ambitions.

Last week, Attorney General Bill Schuette and other state agencies released an exhaustive independent assessment of Enbridge Energy Inc.’s Line 5 dual pipelines, concluding they could operate indefinitely without presenting an environmental risk.

That would seem to support the company’s claim that their maintenance and monitoring program is working to keep Line 5 in “outstanding condition.”

And yet, Schuette says he disagrees with the assessment by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc. and is proposing a timetable be established for shutting the pipelines. His idea is to replace them with a tunnel that runs beneath the straits.

That’s an idea that should be explored, but as Schuette’s own assessment concludes, there’s no cause to be panicked into an expensive infrastructure project at this point.

Line 5 should continue to receive close monitoring, and perhaps an ongoing independent commission is necessary to keep tabs on the pipelines. And stronger safeguards should be put in place to protect against damage to the line from anchor drops.

The pipelines have become the favorite target of Michigan environmentalists, who fear a break in Line 5 would release petroleum products into the world’s largest source of freshwater.

But the 64-year-old pipeline has never had a leak, and according to the latest assessment, is not at imminent risk of springing one.

Predictably, opponents of the pipeline are not happy with Schuette’s tunnel proposal, even though it would get rid of Line 5 and replace it with modern technology. That’s because what’s at work here is not just a fear Line 5 will taint the lakes. The pipeline is primarily under fire because it carries fossil fuels. The carbon warriors will fight any solution for replacing Line 5, no matter how fool-proof.

Michigan should not play that game.

The state should continue to hold Enbridge to a strict regime of vigorous inspections and maintenance, demanding the company go over and above what is necessary to prevent spills.

The 645-mile pipeline plays an essential role in the economy of Michigan, and the Midwest. The report calculated that shutting down Line 5, which runs from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, would lead to a 10-cents a gallon increase in propane prices and a 2 cents gallon spike in gasoline prices.

The attorney general, says he is “a pipeline guy” and is not proposing an urgent timetable for closure of Line 5. Rather, he says he’d like to see an oversight body formed to set policy decommissioning the pipelines when they are no longer safe.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Schuette says. “That defies logic and common sense.”

But the pipelines are in solid shape, according to this latest assessment, and that should guide immediate decision making.