Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her virtual state of the state address to the state in Lansing, Michigan, Jan. 27.
Michigan Governor’s Office / Associated Press
The cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline has led to soaring gasoline prices on the east coast. But that doesn’t stop Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from shutting down another vital pipeline, regardless of the damage in the Midwest and Canada.
Line 5 transports more than half a million barrels of oil and natural gas liquids daily through Canada and the Great Lakes region. Late last year, Ms. Whitmer moved to revoke and terminate an easement that would allow the pipeline to operate 4.5 miles across the Strait of Mackinac. She is seeking an injunction to force Enbridge to shut down Line 5 and “put the pipeline permanently out of service”.
Ms. Whitmer claims Enbridge created “an unacceptable risk of catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could destroy our economy and way of life”. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal regulator that oversees Line 5, said in January that it “does not currently know of any unsafe or dangerous conditions that would warrant shutting down Line 5”.
No type of energy movement is risk-free, but pipelines are much safer than rail. Enbridge says there have been five incidents on Line 5 over two decades that resulted in the release of 882 gallons of product. Compare that to the 2013 Lac Mégantic disaster, in which a train carrying oil derailed, spilling 1.6 million gallons, and causing an explosion that killed 47 people.
Enbridge is applying for approval to build a new pipeline to replace Line 5, but the project is still years away from completion. The Consumer Energy Alliance, an advocacy group, says a shutdown of Line 5 could lead to propane shortages in Michigan’s upper peninsula, and farmers in the Midwest could face rising costs for diesel fuel and more. A report The group found that Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, even by conservative estimates, would lose more than 33,750 jobs and $ 265.7 million in annual tax revenue to the pipeline closure.
Refineries in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania would lose much of their crude oil supplies. United Steelworkers Local 912 President Justin Donley has warned that the closure of Line 5 would endanger the Toledo Refining Company, which is not equipped to accept oil by truck. The result would be a “devastating loss of income” for nearly 350 union workers and “another economic collapse in north Ohio / south Michigan,” he said.
Ms. Whitmer also caused a foreign policy flap. A 1977 treaty between the United States and Canada prohibits any “authority on the territory of either” signatory state from taking any action that would in any way obstruct, divert, divert, or in any way affect the transfer of hydrocarbons in transit between the pipeline the two countries. The treaty provides for exceptions for emergencies or natural disasters and temporary shutdowns for safety reasons, but not for governmental reasons.
The Canadian government rolled out those treaty concerns this month Amicus letter filed in US federal court. Refineries in Ontario are dependent on the pipeline, as is Toronto Pearson International Airport for jet fuel. “Shutting down Line 5 would seriously disrupt supplies and increase the price consumers pay for fuel in Quebec and Ontario,” the Canadians argued, adding, “In western Canada, the loss of Line 5 would have a devastating industrial and economic impact to have.” . ”
Enbridge has kept the pipeline open and is suing in federal court. However, Ms. Whitmer’s pipeline war is a reminder that fossil fuels are the number one enemy for today’s progressives, regardless of economic cost.
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Published in the print edition on May 22, 2021.