Is Line 5 needed to heat the UP?

Feb 8, 2017

Credit ENBRIDGE

An environmental group from Traverse City is challenging the claim that Line 5 is needed to keep residents of the Upper Peninsula warm.

FLOW released a report this week about the oil and gas line that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. The group says the line is an "immanent hazard" to the Great Lakes and the report says Enbridge exaggerates the number of homes heated with propane pumped in on Line 5.

Enbridge officials have claimed to supply as much as 85 percent of the market demand for propane in the UP. They have backed away from that number in the past year and now say the pipeline brings in about 65 percent of the gas needed. (The 85 percent figure still appears on the Michigan Oil and Gas Association website.)

Liz Kirkwood, the executive director of FLOW, says her group’s calculations, based on publicly available data, show the total could be as low 35 percent of the total demand in the UP.

Kirkwood wants to be sure the issue gets careful attention from independent consultants preparing a report for a state task force about alternatives to Line 5.

“If they’re not looking at the propane supply,” says Kirkwood, “we’re going to be concerned that the alternative – the status quo – will be the inevitable conclusion.”

Alternatives?

Whatever the percentage is, Enbridge plays a key role in supplying the UP with heating fuel in the winter months. More than 50,000 homes there heat with propane.

In 2014, a shortage of propane in the upper Midwest was felt more sharply in the UP when the supply of liquid gas from Line 5 was interrupted for about a week. Don Steckman, with Ferrellgas, says some propane retailers went as far away as Texas to get fuel.

“You can imagine what the freight rate is going to be on that,” says Steckman, who is also a district director with the Michigan Propane Gas Association.

Steckman says he gets some propane through rail cars now, about 10 percent of his total, and would like to get more. The problem is his business is not a high priority for Canadian National, the rail company that controls most of the rail system in the UP.

“You can’t even get anyone to talk to you about it,” says Steckman. “It’s not where they make money.”

Liz Kirkwood says depending so much on a single source of transport seems unsafe. She questions why the situation is allowed to persist if the region is as dependent on Line 5 as Enbridge asserts.

“What if Line 5 ruptured right now?” she asks.

FLOW suggests expanding some production facilities in Wisconsin and the Eastern UP and moving propane by trucks on U.S. 2. The report says that could eliminate the need for Line 5.

Enbridge maintains the pipeline is in good shape and is being operated safely. Spokesman Ryan Duffy says the company has no need for an alternative at this time but is giving information to the independent consultants who are preparing the task force report about alternatives.

“We’re going continue to work with them on that,” says Duffy. “We’ll see what happens when the results come out later this year.”