Michigan State University

Research Identifies Viable Options to Enbridge’s Aging “Line 5” for U.P.’s Propane Supply and Michigan, Midwest Demand for Oil

Jon Harrison

Developing and Implementing Alternatives to Aging Pipelines in the Mackinac Straits is Key to Preventing Great Lakes Oil Spill Disaster

Just one to two propane rail cars or a few tanker trucks a day could replace the Line 5 pipeline’s Upper Peninsula propane capacity without risking energy security in the U.P. or a catastrophic Great Lakes oil spill, according to experts for FLOW (For Love of Water0, a water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes.

FLOW’s latest research shows that Line 5 supplies only about one-third to one-half of the Upper Peninsula’s propane, considerably less than the 65-85 percent that pipeline-owner Enbridge asserts, based on FLOW’s estimates using publicly available data. And importantly, FLOW’s estimate represents a relatively small quantity of propane to transport, as the Upper Peninsula is sparsely populated and fewer than 1-in-5 U.P. residents lives in housing heated by propane. (Click here to see the new FLOW fact sheet on Line 5 and U.P. propane supply option.)

Enbridge’s inflated propane claims have needlessly fostered concern among local residents and state lawmakers that shutting down the aging pipeline to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits would result in freezing Upper Peninsula residents in their homes.

“It’s clearer than ever that Line 5 is not vital to Michigan’s energy security and, in fact, threatens our Pure Michigan economy and the drinking water supply to communities from Mackinac Island to metropolitan Detroit,” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and FLOW's executive director. “What’s needed now is a little ingenuity and a willingness to look for answers beyond the status quo with a steel pipeline transporting oil and liquid natural gas that was installed underwater in 1953.”

FLOW’s latest findings serve as an update to FLOW’s December 2015 expert report that concluded that decommissioning the twin pipelines in the Mackinac Straits to prevent a disastrous oil spill would not disrupt Michigan's or the Midwest's crude oil and propane supply, contrary to Enbridge assertions.

FLOW’s research is meant to inform deliberations by a state advisory board that meets next on March 13 in Lansing. The State of Michigan in partnership with the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board is overseeing the completion of two independent studies funded by Enbridge: one on the financial risk to communities and the Pure Michigan economy of a Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits and the other on alternatives to the aging pipeline that could avoid such a disaster. These two studies are expected by mid-2017.

Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director, February 6, 2017; Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org  Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956

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