10 Things you need to know about Line 5

Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, spanning over the Straits of Mackinac where the Line 5 pipeline crosses.

Learn about the Line 5 pipeline.

Pipelines are vital energy infrastructure that safely and efficiently deliver fuel for our everyday needs. The potential Line 5 closure has many implications for people in both the United States and Canada. In case you missed it, here are 10 things you should know about the ongoing battle between Enbridge and the State of Michigan to close Line 5.

1. What is Line 5?
Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline has been operating for over half a century without disruption. Line 5 is a 645-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that travels through Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, originating in Superior, Wisconsin, and terminating in Sarnia, Ontario. As the pipeline travels under the Straits of Mackinac, Line 5 diverges into two, 20-inch diameter parallel pipelines.

2. What does Line 5 supply?
Line 5 delivers light oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) that keep homes and businesses warm, and vehicles running. The pipeline transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and NGLs which are refined into propane.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Cjh1452000, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Who wants to shut it down?
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge to cease operations on the 65-year-old pipeline by May 12, 2021, by revoking an easement over the Straits of Mackinac that has been in place since 1953.

Caroline Liethen, director of environmental and regulatory policy with the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA), says Governor Whitmer was following through on a campaign promise to shut the pipeline down.

“Governor Whitmer is new for Michigan, she’s in her second year with us. And part of her campaign promise was to revoke the easement, which she did. She revoked and terminated the 1953 easement allowing the dual pipelines to operate in the Straits of Mackinac. And the goal was to require Enbridge to cease operations of the dual pipelines by May 2021. From what I understand, the safety record of the pipeline itself is quite good and Enbridge was actually wanting to modernize it and make it a little better,” Liethen explains.

4. Why do people want to shutdown Line 5?
Several environmental groups support the Line 5 shutdown, including the Michigan Environmental Council funding a campaign called Oil & Water Don’t Mix. They say the pipeline isn’t safe due to its age, therefore threatening the Great Lakes.

Liethen says the talking points from environmental groups aren’t based in reality due to the pipeline’s proven safety record. Liethen says there hasn’t been a single spill in the Straits of Mackinac, and Enbridge has multiple safety measures in place 24/7 to ensure the area isn’t at risk.

Enbridge reports, “the Line 5 Straits of Mackinac crossing remains in excellent condition, and has never experienced a leak in more than 65 years of operation. The Line 5 crossing features an exceptional and incredibly durable enamel coating, and pipe walls that are three times as thick—a minimum of 0.812 inches—as those of a typical pipeline. What’s more, the Bechtel Corporation—renowned for the iconic Hoover Dam—designed and built Line 5 in an area of the Straits that would minimize potential corrosion due to lack of oxygen and the cold water temperature.”

5. What are Enbridge’s plans to replace the pipeline?
Not only is the pipeline operating safely, but Enbridge has received state approval on a replacement project, the Great Lakes Tunnel, a private investment by Enbridge that would be built deep under the Straits to house Line 5 and make it even safer. The Great Lakes Tunnel would be bored through rock, virtually eliminating the chance of a pipeline incident.

Caroline Liethen, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Policy with the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA).

“Enbridge has been working on a $500 million project to replace the existing pipelines with a new pipeline encased in a concrete tunnel, which would be approximately 100 feet below the lake bed, which would be even safer than the safety measures we have in place now,” Liethen says.

6. What are the impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Americans?
For the people of Michigan, Liethen explains the most direct impact of a Line 5 shutdown would be in the cost of heating of their homes. Liethen also notes more than half of the jet fuel supplies for the Detroit Metro airport would be out of production.

“55 per cent of Michigan families depend on Line 5 to deliver propane at prices they can afford at a reliable level. And this number increases to 65 per cent when we’re talking about families that reside in the Upper Peninsula. And for Michigan manufacturers, Line 5 delivers the fuel they need and rely on to fuel production lines, build Michigan products, and to make Michigan jobs possible. Increased costs of fuel increases transport costs, so to get raw materials to manufacturing plants and then to move that finished product to market hurts Michigan competitiveness on a global scale.” Without reliable energy, manufacturers don’t have the ability to continue operations which hurts the economy.

Additionally, refineries served by Enbridge in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania would receive approximately 45 per cent less crude than their current demand, which would lead to supply shortages across the region.

7. What are the impacts of a Line 5 shutdown on Canadians?
Line 5 transports oil and NGLs from Western Canada through the U.S. to refineries in Ontario and Quebec. It’s estimated 4,900 jobs are at risk in Sarnia, Ontario alone, not counting the thousands of indirect jobs in the region.

If the pipeline were to cease operations, Ontario and Quebec refineries would receive 45 per cent less crude from Enbridge. There would likely be an immediate supply shortage across Eastern Canada. Toronto Pearson Airport would be left without fuel, just in time for pandemic travel restrictions to ease. The region would see a 14.7-million-US-gallons-a-day supply shortage of gas, diesel, and jet fuel (45 per cent of current supply).

8. What would replace Line 5?
According to Enbridge, it would take an estimated 2,100 trucks heading east every day from Superior, and travelling across Michigan, to do the same job—or the equivalent of 90 trucks an hour leaving their Superior Terminal. Alternately, it would take 800 rail cars a day to transport the equivalent amount of product.

Environmental groups advocating for the shutdown, such as the Sierra Club, say, “Propane can be transported by rail or truck, and shutting down Line 5 would only increase prices by 5 to 11 cents a gallon.” The price increase they estimate is assuming there is advanced notice and the infrastructure in place for a shutdown. The infrastructure is not in place so the supply shortage would be felt by consumers immediately.

If the environment is the priority, delivering fuel via pipeline is the best way to protect it.

9. How are both countries responding to this threat?

In response to the threat by Governor Whitmer, several Canadian provincial leaders have shown their support for Line 5, and the federal government filed an amicus curiae brief to keep the pipeline running. Enbridge has also continued running the pipeline past the May 12 deadline and are in ongoing court-ordered mediation with the State of Michigan.

“Line 5 is essential to our energy security. The Government of Canada has continuously advocated for and raised the importance of Line 5. We’ve worked in close collaboration with provinces, industry and labour and have raised Line 5 directly with the U.S. Administration. It has been — and continues to be — a Team Canada approach. Line 5 does not just affect one province or one region — it supports our entire country,” the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources states in the brief.

“Under the federal court’s order, Enbridge and Michigan have entered into a mediation process and are meeting regularly. We remain confident this will lead to a solution. In filing this amicus brief, we worked with the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. We are continuing to work together to defend Line 5, leaving no stone unturned in defending Canada’s energy security and the workers who built this country,” Minister O’Regan notes.

U.S. President Joe Biden hasn’t intervened on the shutdown, and Liethen says having reliable and affordable energy is essential for recovery after the pandemic recession. “We’re currently undergoing a shift in energy policy under the Biden administration. And meanwhile, we have an energy-based economy and it needs reliable and affordable energy to flow, especially as we are recovering from the COVID recession. Even most recently, construction on Keystone XL pipeline was halted when president Biden revoked his permit on his first day of office. So as these policies advance, we need to find a way to ensure a healthy business climate and economy, balanced with the new administration goals,” Liethen says.

10. Why is advocacy in support of Line 5, and energy infrastructure in general, important?

Line 5 is important for the energy security of Canadians and Americans. It’s important to understand the impacts of a major pipeline shutdown before supporting it.

Liethen says with respect to this issue, the level of understanding amongst the general public varies. The Michigan Manufacturers Association has been advocating for and supporting Line 5 and the construction of the Great Lakes Tunnel Project to the state legislature and the public.

Line 5 is another example of how pipelines, even ones operating safely for decades, are increasingly targeted by environmental activists and sometimes government officials. Next time you fuel up, you might want to think about where the resource came from and how it was delivered to you.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out CAOEC’s full interview with Caroline Liethen on the General Well Servicing CAOEC Podcast at caodc.podbean.com. If you’d like to learn more about Michigan Manufacturers Association, please visit their website at https://mimfg.org/.