Enbridge Line 5: Is it worth the risk?
ESCANABA — Faith groups gathered recently on the steps of the Capital in Lansing to call for a shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5.
Because we believe that all of humanity is called by God to love and care for all of creation, the issue of the danger of Pipeline 5 is of grave importance to the entire Great Lakes ecosystem and our communities in the Basin.
There is a growing concern among many over the lack of adequate upkeep and questions about the necessity of continuing operation of the Line 5. Line 5 is 65 years old. It runs under, over and through the entire state of Michigan. It is showing signs of decomposition and has a history of 29 documented leaks totaling over 1 million gallons.
The line’s rising potential for rupture jeopardizes the future water quality, ecosystem health, commercial fisheries, tourism, and livelihood of those across and beyond Michigan.
A rupture would mean environmental and economic risk to the Straits, as well as the entire northern shorelines of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Tourism would nearly vanish. Commercial fishing by Native Americans at the Straits would cease. Mackinac Island and Bois Blanc Island would need to be evacuated and remain so for several months. Thousands of seasonal jobs would be lost. Local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, motels, arts and crafts shops, micro-breweries, gas stations, marinas, etc., would face economic ruin. Ferry boats to Mackinac Island could not operate. Property values, and the taxes they generate, would plummet.
A recent study by Dr. Robert Richardson of Michigan State University conservatively estimated the cost to Michigan of an oil spill at the Straits to exceed $6 billion.
In a full page ad that appeared on March 28, 2018, in The Marquette Mining Journal, Enbridge boasted they supply propane to 65 percent of the residents in the Upper Peninsula via Line 5.
Assuming this is true, it would be important to note that two-thirds of the propane users in the U.P. are dependent on a multibillion-dollar Canadian company, whose primary goal is to transport crude oil and unrefined propane from Alberta to Ontario, using Michigan as a convenient shortcut.
This raises an overriding concern about the high degree of dependence the U.P. has on Line 5 with no apparent backup plan if a sudden shutdown occurs due to equipment failure or worse yet, a rupture.
This was recently confirmed by Enbridge’s communications strategist and community engagement official, Ryan Duffy: “We’ve been trying to convey the importance of Line 5. If you lose 65 percent, that’s a big deal.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Duffy got it right. It is a big deal! The answer, however, is not to continue repeating the mantra that Line 5 can never be shut down. Rather, we call for the implementation of alternatives for providing propane to the U.P. as quickly as possible.
Before a disaster occurs, we maintain there are straight forward alternatives that can be readily implemented, at a cost that is a small fraction of the proposal (by Enbridge) of building a tunnel under the Straits. They include:
– A new 4-inch pipeline to transport propane from Superior, Wis., to Rapid River, or
– 1 rail car per day to transport propane from Superior, Wis., to Rapid River, or
– 3-4 tank trucks per day to transport propane from Superior, Wis., to Rapid River, or
– Increasing the rail deliveries of propane to the existing facility at Kincheloe, Mich.
But wouldn’t a shutdown of Line 5 result in a substantial price increase for propane? No. According to an independent consulting report, “The cost impact …is not expected to substantially impact local/regional pricing dynamics… although profit margins may be impacted.” In other words, the Enbridge profit margin for propane in the U.P. may not be quite as lucrative. Their profits could be a little less.
Many Michiganders continue to pray over this issue. We stand with the majority of people who lovingly show compassion for this planet — our island home. We only have one.
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Rt. Rev. Rayford Ray is bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. Gary Street is a chemical engineer, M.S., P.E.