Opposition to a proposed pipeline that would bring more oil from Canada to refineries around the United States has come from many directions since being introduced more than a decade ago. Landowners and Native American tribes along the route have fought the Keystone XL proposal. Environmental groups have said it would trample on sensitive land, endanger water resources and enlarge the nation’s carbon footprint.
Michigan Sen. Curt VanderWall calls it the “most scrutinized pipeline in the nation.” And whatever one thinks the state should do about the future of Line 5 — which is located under the Straits of Mackinac and carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids every day — it’s hard to disagree with the observation. Built in 1953, the twin pipelines have been called a “sunken hazard” that put the “Great Lakes at risk of a catastrophic oil pipeline rupture.”
But VanderWall and others note that Michigan relies on the energy supplies being shipped via Line 5. He says, for example, that most of the propane used in the Upper Peninsula comes from the 645-mile pipeline, which starts in Wisconsin, goes under the Straits, and then winds through Michigan before reaching Ontario.
“To get the same supplies by truck, you’d need 2,400 trucks doing it every day, nonstop,” says VanderWall, a member of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus Executive Committee. “The pipeline is the safest way to transport the oil. We need to make it safer.”
The state’s policy solution, at least for now, is this: Allow Line 5 to continue to operate for another few years, under enhanced inspections. Meanwhile, begin construction on a utility tunnel, located up to 100 feet beneath the lakebed, that would secure a new pipeline.
Concerns about twin, 64-year-old pipelines located under the Straits of Mackinac (which connect lakes Michigan and Huron) led to a new agreement in late November between the state of Michigan and Enbridge. In announcing the deal, Gov. Rick Snyder said “business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable.” According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has been frustrated about a “lack of forthrightness” regarding the safety of these pipelines, which are known as “Line 5” and carry up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids every day.