A report and draft recommendations from a state task force formed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer point to a needed shift away from the risky Enbridge Line 5 pipeline along with near-monopoly control by Canadian companies over the propane supply in the Upper Peninsula. The recommendations include moving toward more rail transport for critically needed propane for home heating and other measures to avoid major future disruptions in supply.
U.P. Energy Task Force Members meet in December 2019 - PHOTO BY Andy Balaskovitz / Energy News Network
The draft recommendations from the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force, released for public comment last Friday, amount to a call for immediate action to begin an orderly decommissioning of Enbridge’s Line 5 while the state moves toward reliable and affordable alternatives for providing propane to U.P. residents by rail, said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator.
“It isn’t just the Great Lakes that are at risk from Line 5, it’s also the independence and safety of U.P. residents who rely on propane to heat their homes that are in jeopardy,” said McBrearty. “As Gov. Whitmer pointed out when she created the U.P. Energy Task Force, we are one mistake away from a Line 5 catastrophe. Michigan needs better energy choices, and U.P. residents and retail propane distributors shouldn’t be forced to rely on just one or two Canadian companies to meet their needs.”
“We are all learning that the best way to deal with a public health threat is to confront it immediately and head-on,” said McBrearty. “Right now the governor is understandably engaged in dealing with a major public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we will soon need to turn our urgent attention to again prioritizing the threat of Line 5 to the Great Lakes and public health.”
The task force released 14 draft recommendations and a detailed report that examined three threats that could disrupt Upper Peninsula’s propane supply. Two of the three threats studied were from disruptions of supply from Enbridge’s Line 1 pipeline that originates in Edmonton, Canada, and Line 5, which crosses through Michigan from Superior, Wisconsin, and transports oil and natural gas liquids.
Enbridge’s pipelines have a long history of leaks and ruptures, including one in 2010 near Marshall, Michigan, that pumped 1.2 million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. The aging Line 5 pipeline, constructed in 1953, has leaked at least 33 times, including a 1999 failure near Crystal Falls, Michigan, that spilled 222,600 gallons of oil. The report said a rupture or other shutdown of Line 5 presented the single biggest pipeline threat to the supply of propane to the Upper Peninsula.
The public has until April 6 to submit comments on the draft recommendations to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy at [email protected]
"Michigan needs better energy choices, and U.P. residents and retail propane distributors shouldn’t be forced to rely on just one or two Canadian companies to meet their needs.” - Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix coordinator
Initial task force recommendations call on the Michigan Department of Transportation to review the state’s rail lines for upgrades to accommodate propane transport. The Michigan Legislature should also determine what infrastructure program changes may be needed to promote propane transport by rail, according to the report. There are also recommendations to ramp up weatherization programs and funding for U.P. homeowners and to expand propane storage capacity in the Upper Peninsula.
The report describes near-monopoly control over propane distribution in the U.P. held by two Canadian companies, including one supplied by Enbridge’s Line 5 in Rapid River. U.P. residents pay some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and the task force recommended that the Legislature explore adopting a fuel price gouging law that Wisconsin currently uses.
Rail routes from Edmonton to sites in the Upper Peninsula are the most cost-effective option for delivering propane, Public Sector Consultants wrote in their report to the task force. The costs for transporting propane by rail from Escanaba and then by truck to a production facility in Rapid River were comparable to what it costs now to transport through LIne 5, the consultants reported.