Advance Notice: Briefs

New company offers U.P. propane alternative to Line 5

By: - September 1, 2020 12:00 pm

Mackinac Bridge | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 7:30 p.m., 9/1/20 with comment from Enbridge

State environmental activists are lifting up a new potential source of propane for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in the hopes that it will give more leeway for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down Canadian oil company Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 pipeline.

Line 5 has transported Canadian oil under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac for nearly 70 years, despite being built to safely withstand just 50 years. One of Enbridge’s main arguments for keeping it operational — and for building its replacement, which is currently in the permitting stages — is that decommissioning the pipeline would cut off essential propane supply to the U.P.

Many U.P. residents rely on propane to heat their homes during colder months, much of which is supplied by Line 5.

But Silver Wolf Midstream CEO Niel Rootare told NPR on Monday that his new company plans to use a 225-mile-long, currently idle pipeline to ship propane to Michigan’s Gaylord/Kalkaska area from Sarnia, Ontario, making up for any shortfall of propane without Line 5.

From there, the propane would be shipped from I-75 and over the Mackinac Bridge to serve the U.P. market.

The pipeline had previously been used to carry ethane to Sarnia, so its flow would need to be reversed. Rootare told NPR that he expects to close the deal before 2020 ends, and potentially be able to provide up to 1 million gallons of propane to northern Michigan and the U.P. by October 2021.

Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy told the Advance that the propane pipeline would “not replace or lessen the need for Line 5.”

“The UP Energy Task Force’s recent report estimated that 89 percent of the propane currently imported into Michigan from Sarnia was first delivered by Line 5 as natural gas liquids into Sarnia,” Duffy said. “The proposed reversal of a refined product pipeline by Silver Wolf Midstream would not change the need for the feedstock carried by Line 5.”*

But environmentalists like the anti-Line 5 Oil & Water Don’t Mix coalition are praising the Silver Wolf Midstream project as a “major breakthrough” that chips away at Enbridge’s warning of major U.P. propane shortages without Line 5.

Campaign coordinator Sean McBrearty also noted that it should put more pressure on Whitmer to shut down the Enbridge pipeline.

“The only certainty we have with Line 5 is that we are just one accident away from an oil pipeline rupture that would devastate Michigan,” McBrearty said. “Whatever happens with Enbridge’s proposed tunnel it would be years away from being constructed. Line 5 is all risk and no benefit for Michigan and it’s past time for Gov. Whitmer to use her authority to begin the process of decommissioning Line 5.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been in the process of reviewing Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 easement since June 2019. The Advance reported in early August that the easement review is now being finalized with Whitmer’s office.

A timeline for the review’s completion is unclear, but its contents could unlock Whitmer’s executive ability to decommission the pipeline by revoking the easement entirely.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).