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As Energy Prices Soar, Shutting Down Line 5 Would Be Devastating For Michigan

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The cost for everything, including heat and electricity, is forecast to rise this winter to levels that haven’t been seen in a decade. Yet activists have called for shutting down a pipeline that supplies the majority of Michigan’s propane and has been responsibly operating for decades.

The protests, including from Michigan’s governor, have made headlines recently as rumors circulated that the Biden administration was considering shutting down the Line 5 pipeline. It has since confirmed that it is studying the impacts such an action would have but has no plans to shut it down.

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The administration, which has faced significant criticism for rising energy prices following its ban on federal leasing and cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, has good reason to reject such an extreme measure: Shutting down Line 5 would have devastating impacts across the Midwest and on Michigan in particular.

As Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) and House members wrote in a recent letter to the Biden administration:

The devastating consequences of shutting down Line 5 cannot be overstated. The pipeline is essential to the lifeblood of the Midwest. Should the Biden Administration move forward to shut down Line 5 tens of thousands of jobs would be lost across Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the region; billions of dollars in economy activity would be in jeopardy; and the environment would be at greater risk due to additional trucks operating on roadways and railroads carrying hazardous materials. Further, as we enter the winter months and temperatures drop across the Midwest, the termination of Line 5 will undoubtedly further exacerbate shortages and price increases in home heating fuels like natural gas and propane, at a time when Americans are already facing rapidly rising energy prices, steep home heating costs, global supply shortages, and skyrocketing gas prices.” (emphasis added)

Line 5’s Real Impacts

According to its website, Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline has been in operation since 1953 and in the more than 65 years of operation, it has delivered oil and natural gas liquids and done so without incident, including in the Strait of Mackinac where activists are concerned that a spill could occur. Enbridge explains:

“We’re working hard to keep it that way. We monitor the Line 5 Straits crossing 24/7, using both specially trained staff and sophisticated computer monitoring systems. We also carry out regular inspections of the line, using inline tools, expert divers, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), going above and beyond regulatory requirements.”

Importantly, this dual pipeline system – it’s actually two pipelines that run parallel to each other – delivers about 540,000 barrels per day of oil and natural gas liquids that are refined into propane. That fuel is delivered to facilities in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the United States and Ontario and Quebec in Canada, making this not only a concern for the Midwest but also has been a source of international contention. As Bloomberg reports:

“The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backs Enbridge, saying that the pipeline’s continued operation is nonnegotiable. It recently invoked a provision in a 1970s-era treaty to defend the line’s operation, raising the matter to the international level.” (emphasis added)

That’s because the combined impact to the refineries would be a shortfall of about 14.7 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel or about 45 percent of current supply. And transporting the fuels by rail would only be able to make up less than 10 percent of the shortage. According to Enbridge:

“A Line 5 shutdown puts at least 15 percent of northwest Ohio’s fuel supply at risk, as well as more than half of the jet fuel supplies for the Detroit Metro Airport.”

That could have major impacts on already rising gas prices. According to AAA, prices at the pump are $3.41 for regular and $3.55 for diesel in Michigan and $3.23 and $3.69, respectively, in Ohio this week.

Michigan consumers would be hit especially hard this winter.

If Michigan Gov. Michelle Whitmer is successful in getting the pipeline shut down, her constituents would feel the hit to their wallets, as well as potential supply shortages this winter. Forty-two percent of Midwest homes are heated with propane, and according to the Energy Information Administration:

“In 2019, Michigan was among the top five states in residential sector petroleum use and had the largest residential sector propane consumption in the nation.”

Already, EIA is forecasting the homes heated with propane will spend 54 percent more this winter.

But how much impact could one pipeline have? Well, a lot.

Line 5 supplies about 65 percent of the propane consumed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and 55 percent of the statewide consumption. As Jason Hayes, Director of Environmental Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy explained last year:

“Over 330,000 households rely on [propane] each day, and the governor’s own energy task force admitted that alternatives would be prohibitively expensive. If Line 5 were shut down, Upper Peninsula residents who could first afford the $25,000 cost of converting from propane to electric heating would then face annual heating costs about $3,500 above what they currently pay.”

He gave a dire outlook for what residents could face if the pipeline is shut down recently on Fox News:

“I hope it doesn’t end like this, but where I see it going is unfortunately the same thing that happened in February in Texas: People freezing in their homes. Most of the time when it’s extremely cold or there’s a real bad polar vortex situation, typically it’s pretty cloudy and there’s not a lot of wind.”

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged in a recent interview that the costs to heat U.S. homes “will be more expensive this year than last year.” That will be especially true in the Midwest if Line 5 shuts down.

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