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Lawmakers Fiddle on Enbridge Line 5 Upgrade As Michigan Needs Pipes

Like many states, Michigan is in dire need of infrastructure upgrades.

In its 2018 Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D+ and recommended “upgrading energy pipelines” among several measures to “meet future needs, avoid energy disruptions, and lower the risk of future increased energy costs.”

But the issue of how to fund necessary infrastructure upgrades is a constant source of debate for the Legislature.

Luckily, Michigan has an option to upgrade the critical Line 5 pipeline … without spending a dime. In fact, Enbridge’s proposed state-of-the-art replacement project would bring jobs, tax dollars, and an infrastructure upgrade all in one fell swoop.

But the financial benefits, jobs, and energy security that an upgraded Line 5 will provide have not stopped the Keep It in the Ground activists from trying to shut down the critical pipeline entirely with oversimplified or misinformed rhetoric.

So here are five critical facts you need to know about the benefits of Enbridge Line 5 and the significant consequences of shutting it down.

1. Enbridge Line 5 is safe.

In its more than 60 years of operation, the Enbridge Line 5 Straights of Mackinac crossing has never experienced a leak. One reason is that the four-mile stretch of pipeline that comprises the Line 5 Straights of Mackinac crossing is the most inspected segment of pipe in Enbridge’s entire North American network.

2. The replacement for Enbridge Line 5 is safer yet.

Last December, the Mackinac Straights Corridor Authority approved an agreement with Enbridge to build a tunnel 100 feet below the Mackinac Straight to house the new pipelines. This tunnel would have one-foot-thick concrete walls and would be bored through the bedrock that supports the Mackinac Straight.

In other words, the Line 5 pipelines—whose state-of-the-art construction was so effective that they never once leaked in over 60 years of service—would be replaced by modern-day, state-of-the-art technology and housed in a concrete tunnel 100 feet below the Straight, virtually eliminating the risk of leaks.

3. The Line 5 replacement project is an economic boon for Michigan.

The replacement project is going to cost up to $500 million—which Enbridge would pay—and provide thousands of good-paying jobs during its construction. And once completed, Michigan would own the tunnel and lease it to Enbridge for 99 years.

4. Shutting down Line 5 will hurt Michigan’s residents

Line 5 delivers 65% of the propane that heats the homes in the Upper Peninsula, and 55% of Michigan’s overall propane needs. As State Rep. Sara Cambensy recently said, “The problem with everyone calling for the immediate shutdown (of Line 5) is that no one is providing a solution for how U.P. residents would get their propane.”

And the consequences could be disastrous. For example, the extreme cold of the winter of 2014 caused a shortage of propane that drove the price up to $6 per gallon, a 400% increase over the normal rate.

But the consequences aren’t just economic. According to new research from Northwestern University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, higher heating bills actually increase winter mortality. The researchers found that when “the price of natural gas relative to electricity fell by 42% between 2005 to 2010,” the drop in the cost of home heating “lowered the US winter mortality rate by 0.9%,” or 11,000 deaths per year.

5. Ironically, shutting down Line 5 will hurt the environment.

To replace the propane that Line 5 delivered to the Upper Peninsula, suppliers would have to employ 3,600 tanker trucks each year. And that increase is miniscule compared to the 177 fuel transport trucks and 11 propane trucks per day that would be needed to deliver the 33,000 bpd of crude oil that Line 5 delivers to Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s Detroit refinery. That’s an additional 68,000 truck trips per year needed to replace the safe and combustion-free Line 5 delivery system.