Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: Pipeline politics have come to dominate energy discussions domestically and internationally. Probably the most well-known of these are the Nordstream 2 Pipeline in the Baltic to bring Russian Gas to Germany and of course the Keystone XL Pipeline which would have brought more Canadian Heavy Oil to American Refineries. Believe it or not, pipelines can bring benefits. For Nordstream 2 it will bring Russia a new vassal state. Keystone XL, had billions in money set aside to utilize renewable power and hire unionized workers; It would have been the world’s first “net-zero” pipeline and probably the world’s first equity built pipeline. Unfortunately, for both pipelines the tactical thinking won out over the strategic benefit.
Now, while most Americans are recovering from Covid lockdowns and looking forward to returning jobs and prosperity, in the shadows lurks the Canadian government with another pipeline, Line 5, running through the heart of beautiful Michigan (Fig 1).
Keystone XL would have brought oil to American refiners where it would have been converted into products that America still needs. But the Line 5 pipeline’s primary purpose is to transport oil from the oil fields in the West of Canada to the population centers in the East of Canada. It brings nothing significant to America except environmental hazard. Since 1968, accidents and line breaks along Line 5 spill an average of 21,000 gallons of oil of into Michigan’s environment each year. It could get worse, as the Canadian Government is now demanding that the Line 5 tunnel project be approved in order to push more crude through Michigan. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Enbridge even suggested that “…the tunnel the Canadian company is building for its oil pipeline under Lake Michigan is exactly what the U.S. president’s plan for better infrastructure is all about.” I don’t agree. The U.S. President’s infrastructure objectives include minimizing environmental risk, not expanding it by running more pipelines under water. Furthermore, better infrastructure doesn’t always mean building new things, it can also mean removing bad old things.
From North Sea Oil and Gas experience, there are always risks with pipelines under water. Starting in the late 1980s, North Sea pipeline operators started to see issues arise with alarming frequency because of pipelines exposed to currents and, in the worst cases, scour leaving the pipelines partially suspended between supports or across horst and graben seabed features. The safest pipelines are ones built on or under land, not underwater, and not even in dedicated tunnels. Therefore, I propose an alternative and an environmentally safer route for Line 5 (Fig 2).
There really is no need, none whatsoever, for Line 5 to pass through Michigan and be exposed at the two risky underwater crossing. There is no substantive benefit to America. There is no risk of Michigan losing oil or gas feedstock for its industry and residents, because Michigan can be readily supplied from the Chicago hub.
But we’ve seen this before. Ontario (Canada) has an egregious history of dumping trash in Michigan. In 2006, Ontario (mostly the city of Toronto) exported around 2 million tonnes of trash each year to Michigan landfills. Though the bulk of this trash consisted of food waste, stinky diapers and the like, when residents in Michigan tried to stop this odious mass from breaching their borders, the Canadian government managed to classify the garbage as a tradable commodity, and therefore exempt it from any restriction due to NAFTA. By 2018, Ontario was dumping close to 5 million tonnes of trash each year onto Michigan.
People of Michigan, haven’t you had enough of Canadian trash, liquid or solid, in your state? Line 5 does not benefit Michigan: It brings more toxic hazard to Michigan. Make Canada haul their own crude. While ordinary Canadian folks tend to be polite and well mannered, do not underestimate the machinations of the politicos in Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec City. When the Line 5 expansion leaks, the Canadian politicos, masters of double speak and cover-ups, will find a way to dismissively tell America that oil is a nutrient for the poor little fishies. Stand up Michigan. Stand up America, pull the plug on Line 5 as quickly as possible, and resist this Canadian invasion!
Vive l’Alberta Libre!