Editorial: Tunnel for Line 5 a practical solution
While it is hard for many people to accept, the world still runs on oil and gas. In fact, 60 percent of energy production in the United States in 2017 came from the two fossil fuels.
It will be a long time before that reality changes significantly. Renewable energy sources are on the rise, but are decades away from making oil and gas obsolete, if that ever happens.
Energy production and distribution networks will remain vital to the economy. In Michigan, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is a critical piece of that energy infrastructure.
The 450-mile conduit spans the full length of the state as it connects Superior, Wisconsin, with Sarnia, Ontario.
But Line 5 is problematic because it runs along the lake bottom as it crosses the Straits of Mackinac.
The concern is that a break in the twin underwater lines will result in a spill devastating to the Great Lakes. It’s a reasonable worry, since Line 5 is more than 60-years-old.
Though the Straits connector has never had a leak, the line is aging and the risk of such a break will increase with time.
Gov. Rick Snyder came up with what seems the most practical solution. He negotiated with Enbridge to move Line 5 into a tunnel bored through the rock deep beneath the lake bed.
The cost is high — $500 million that will be covered by Enbridge — but it will keep oil and gas supplies flowing while reducing the risk of an oil spill to nearly zero.
Snyder's plan passed the Senate this week, after a compromise was reached on who will provide oversight. The governor wanted to place the tunnel under the Mackinac Bridge Authority, which wanted no part of the responsibility and probably wasn't equipped for the job anyway. The new plan creates a separate authority to manage the tunnel.
The House votes on the deal next week, and we think lawmakers should pass it.
Still, pipeline critics, whose ranks include incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are rejecting the claim that Line 5 can be made safe. They want the pipeline shut down now.
They contend keeping the pipeline open for the up to 10 years it will take to complete the tunnel is too risky. Enbridge has agreed as part of the deal to increased monitoring and maintenance and to shut the line down in rough weather.
For some of the opponents, their objections to the tunnel appear to be less about protecting the lakes and more about transporting oil and gas by any method.
One group, Oil and Water Don’t Mix, laments on its web site that allowing Line 5 to remain open will “effectively delay the current energy transition to renewable energy across North America.”
That’s not likely. Energy companies are steadily moving toward a greater mix of renewables in their portfolios, as the price competitiveness of those sources improve. Starving the nation of oil and gas won’t hasten the conversion. It will only drive up energy costs and create financial hardships for consumers.
Among the products Line 5 carries are the natural gas liquids that are refined into propane. More than half of those gases used in Michigan move through the pipeline. Highly efficient propane accounts for 8 percent of home heating fuel in Michigan.
Line 5 also moves up to 540,000 barrels a day of light crude and synthetic crude oil daily, much of it used in Michigan.
With or without the pipeline, that oil and gas will have to move, most likely by ship, truck or rail. The pipeline is the least risky and most climate friendly method of transport.
The tunnel solution is a practical means of protecting the Great Lakes while assuring uninterrupted energy supplies.