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Is an oil and gas pipeline in Straits of Mackinac safe or stupid?

Line 5.

Have you heard of it? It’s a segment of an Enbridge Inc.’s pipeline running from Alberta, Canada to Sarnia, Canada.

Harmless enough, right? Well, not necessarily. You see, it runs right through Michigan, and more concerning is that it lies in the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

Actually, there are two pipes laying down there, carrying over 21 million gallons of oil and propane under extreme high pressure every day.

And it’s old. The pipeline was built 66 years ago, and has outlived its expected lifespan, so Enbridge now wants to tunnel under the Straits to put a new pipeline in.

Bad idea.

In fact, I believe, Line 5 was a terrible idea and most likely would never be approved today.

A University of Michigan study said the Straits of Mackinac is the “worst possible place” to build a pipeline. With the heavy currents pulsating back and forth, an oil spill hundreds of feet down would be impossible to clean up. A spill under the winter ice would be the worst of the worst.

Did you know that roughly 20% of the world’s fresh water is held in the Great Lakes? They are the largest freshwater bodies on Earth.

The U-of-M study predicted up to 720 miles of shoreline would be polluted. The economic damage would be equally as bad as the environmental damage. The time is now to shut Line 5 down and find alternative routing to meet the propane needs of northern Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has created a task force to look into those options, with the first report being issued this past March and the final to come next year.

Just a few weeks ago, Enbridge shut down a portion of Line 5 because of some damage to the Straits pipeline, then reopened the pipeline after ignoring the governor’s request to update the state before they restarted it. The courts are now involved and no doubt will continue to be involved for years. But, regardless of the outcome, nothing changes the fact that Line 5 crossing the Straits is and always will be a disaster waiting to happen.

Enbridge will tell you the pipe is safe, while at the same time not telling us the line has had 29 leaks of various sizes over the length and life of the pipe, and has spilled over a million gallons of oil and gas, with four of those spills each being over 200,000 gallons, according to a report from the National Wildlife Federation. Their review of federal data reveals that, from 2002, Enbridge and its joint ventures and subsidiaries reported 307 spills of hazardous liquids to federal regulators. That’s one incident every 20 days, on average, cumulatively spilling over 2.8 million gallons.

And Enbridge continues to call their pipelines safe?

Michiganders may remember the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in their Line 6, spilling over a million gallons of toxic tar sand oil into the Kalamazoo River. That was after they ignored a warning from the the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration in 2005 directing them to repair the corrosive seems of this pipe. It took over five years and a billion dollars to clean up that disaster.

And, as bad as it was, it pales in comparison to what would happen if a spill of that magnitude would occur in the Straits. Shipping would be suspended. Studies show that would have a $45 billion — yes, billion — negative impact if shipping was halted for just two weeks. The environmental damage would be catastrophic. The fishing, tourism and recreation industries would be disrupted for years.

The courts and politicians, as well as Enbridge, will continue to disagree, but the sensible thing to do is develop alternative delivery systems and shut down Line 5 for good. It was a stupid idea back in 1953, and it is an equally stupid idea today.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know at gregawtry@awtry.com.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com.

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