Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 is a 68-year old oil pipeline that brings oil and other fuel products from neighboring Canada to the Midwest by traversing part of the Great Lakes. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has demanded closure of the pipeline because of its path through the 4-mile stretch of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. In 1953, Michigan granted an easement to place the twin 20 inch pipes on the strait’s bottom, which Whitmer canceled in November and ordered the pipeline to close by May 18. Enbridge rejected Whitmer’s order to stop transporting oil because only the federal government has regulatory authority over its operations and filed a federal lawsuit, which is pending. Whitmer warned the company that continuing to operate the line would be trespassing and the state would claim Enbridge’s profits. According to Enbridge, that portion of the pipeline has never leaked and is in good condition.
Line 5 moves about 23 million gallons (540,000 barrels) of oil and natural gas liquids per day over 645 miles between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario. The oil is refined for gasoline, jet fuel and propane in several Midwestern states, as well as Ontario and Quebec. Line 5 supplies 65 percent of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula, and 55 percent of Michigan’s statewide propane needs. The pipeline runs underground through northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before reaching the Straits of Mackinac. From there, it continues south to Port Huron, Michigan, before crossing beneath the St. Clair River to Sarnia. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a permit allowing the pipeline to cross the international border.
Due to increasing oil and gasoline prices, President Biden begged OPEC+ for more oil production, only to be denied as those countries are making billions from oil that is priced over $80 a barrel. His administration has not yet taken a position on line 5, but has indicated that the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an environmental impact statement on Enbridge’s proposal to run a replacement segment through a tunnel that would be drilled beneath the straits. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has issued a permit for the $500 million tunnel, but approval from the Army Corps also is needed. The federal agency will also consider potential effects on the straits and adjacent wetlands. However, the study does not involve whether the existing twin pipes under the Straits of Mackinac should continue operating.
Last month, Canada invoked a 1977 treaty that guarantees the unimpeded transit of oil between the two nations and asked a judge to suspend litigation over Michigan’s effort to shut down the oil pipeline. That action came after court filings indicated that mediation talks between the state and Enbridge over the future of Line 5 were largely at a dead end. Because Canada invoked this treaty, the Biden administration has been drawn into the issue.
On October 20, protesters forced the shutdown of the pipeline for several hours after they trespassed onto a Michigan facility and tampered with the pipeline equipment. After several hours, Line 5’s operator got the pipeline up and running, averting an outage similar to the Colonial Pipeline last spring.
Clearly, a shutdown would cause fuel shortages and higher prices of gasoline and propane in the region and kill thousands of jobs, as is the case with the cancellation of Keystone XL. It will also mean more trucks operating on roadways and railroads carrying hazardous materials. According to Congressman Bob Latta, “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.” Politico recently reported that the Biden administration was reviewing data on how closing the pipeline would affect fuel prices in the region, and the White House admitted they were looking at the possibility of closing the line.
Winter energy prices are expected to increase for most Americans. The federal Energy Information Administration released a report in October stating that U.S. households that rely on natural gas to heat and power their homes could spend an average of $746 to heat their homes this winter, which is an increase of 30 percent from the previous winter. Those that heat with oil will spend 43 percent more, $1734 on average this winter to heat their homes. Those who use propane will spend 54 percent more—94 percent more in a colder winter and 29 percent more in a warmer winter. Gasoline prices, meanwhile, continue to increase, with AAA data showing the average price of a gallon of regular gas increasing to a seven-year high of $3.422.
President Biden and his administration have already caused oil and gasoline prices to increase as they have canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, placed a ban on Federal leases for oil and gas drilling, delayed holding those leases when overturned by the courts, and stopped leases and activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Naval Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. In addition, they have launched initiatives with financial regulators to make investment in fossil fuels more difficult and floated increases in taxes and fees on domestic producers of energy. Those actions tell domestic oil and gas producers to not invest in additional drilling which is needed to maintain domestic production. Most of these actions have been taken under the umbrella of his government-wide “climate crisis” initiative.
Instead, President Biden has begged OPEC+ to produce more oil, which is sheer hypocrisy since world emissions of carbon dioxide cannot distinguish between their sources, and the United States is the most environmentally-safe country to produce energy. Clearly, his actions are not what is best for American jobs and the American public that needs energy to heat homes, keep the lights on and to conduct business. The cancellation of Enbridge Line 5 will only result in higher prices and possible shortages this winter.