Whitmer offers plan to supply propane after pipeline closes

Enbridge Line 5 map

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration released a plan Friday to make sure Michigan will have enough propane if a controversial pipeline is shut down.

The strategy addresses a frequent objection to the Democratic governor's demand that Enbridge Inc. decommission its Line 5, a leading carrier of natural gas liquids that are refined into propane to heat many Michigan homes.

It calls for more state investment in rail and propane storage infrastructure and pledges efforts to find new suppliers while working with the industry to deal with potential shortages. It proposes more energy efficiency and greater use of other sources, including renewables.

“Governor Whitmer has remained committed to ensuring the state's energy needs are met when the Enbridge oil pipelines shut down, and this plan furthers that commitment while protecting consumers and their pocketbooks,'' spokeswoman Chelsea Lewis-Parisio said.

Enbridge dismissed the proposals as “wholly inadequate for replacing the propane or energy supply Michiganders currently depend on,'' adding that it would worsen pollution by requiring greater use of other transport methods that would increase customer costs.

Line 5 carries oil and gas liquids through northern Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a portion of the northern Lower Peninsula. A 6.4 kilometre section divides into two pipes that cross the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Whitmer ordered the company last fall to close the 1,038 kilometre line by May, siding with environmental and tribal groups who say it's vulnerable to a rupture that could devastate the lakes.

Enbridge, which is fighting the governor's order in court, says the 68-year-old line is in good condition but that it wants to swap the underwater segment for a new pipe that would be housed in a tunnel beneath the lake bottom. The company has received state environmental permits for the project and is seeking others.

Enbridge says Line 5 fulfills 65 per cent of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula and 55% statewide. For Love of Water, an environmental group, says those numbers are inflated and that a few truckloads or rail cars per day could replace what the pipeline supplies to the U.P.

Whitmer's strategy was based on an assessment of statewide energy needs by the Michigan Public Service Commission, as well as a 2020 report from a U.P. energy task force and recommendations of state departments looking for propane sources other than Line 5.

Retailers have begun developing arrangements less dependent on Line 5, some utilizing state grants for rail facilities, the plan says.

Whitmer's 2022 budget proposal includes $10 million to support rail transport of propane in the U.P. and $5 million for storage tanks near rail spurs. The state is exploring other steps such as injecting more propane into storage reservoirs and encouraging pre-buying to lock in supplies for residents and businesses.

The plan also includes heating assistance for needy families and protections against price gouging.

“For years, Enbridge and their allies have been spending millions of dollars to scare Michigan residents and create a fiction that the sky will fall and people will freeze without Line 5,'' said Sean McBrearty of Clean Water Action. “Governor Whitmer's team has proved them wrong once again. When Line 5 is shut down, our Great Lakes will no longer be at risk of a massive oil spill, and Michigan will still have all the energy resources we need.''

Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association, said the group was studying Whitmer's plan but remained opposed to closing Line 5.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican whose district covers northern Michigan, said the plan would leave Upper Peninsula residents "out in the cold and is incredibly tone deaf to the needs of our constituents.''

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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