TRAVERSE CITY — A host of organizations want an aging oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac shut down and removed, but that pipeline is an important link for Michigan residents and oil producers.
The Oil & Water Don't Mix campaign released a plan Tuesday to decommission Enbridge's Line 5 while finding alternatives to supply the Upper Peninsula with propane and transport crude oil pumped in the northern Lower Peninsula. For Love Of Water Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said she and others with the Traverse City-based nonprofit helped with the five-step plan that implores Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette to take action.
"From our perspective, this plan is deeply needed and desired by the people and the citizens, and businesses and tribes of Michigan, because it lays out a clear pathway forward that addresses Michigan's energy needs and, most fundamentally, eviscerates the catastrophic threat of an oil spill in the Great Lakes," she said.
Schuette should take legal action against Enbridge for what the group views as violations of the company's agreement with the state to operate the pipeline in the straits, according to the plan. Snyder would then direct the Michigan Public Service Commission to look at alternatives for getting propane to the Upper Peninsula — a new pipeline or using rail or truck, for example.
The governor also would direct the commission to find other ways to transport the crude oil that northern Lower Peninsula wells produce and ship through Line 5, according to the proposal. The commission would pursue the best options, and Line 5 would be disassembled statewide.
This proposal aims to serve Michiganders' best interest, not Enbridge's, said Oil & Water Don't Mix Campaign Coordinator Sean McBrearty. It also seeks solutions to avoid unintended consequences to shutting the line down, creating jobs in the process.
"One of the things the state really needs to examine is, they do need to have this plan in place before they can actually stop the flow of oil through the pipeline," he said. "But there are simple steps here that they can take to make sure they have that plan in place."
But Enbridge Communications Strategist Ryan Duffy said there's little new in the proposal, and that an alternatives analysis commissioned by the state has already ruled out some of the alternatives the proposal lists.
Duffy also insisted the line — built in 1953 between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario — remains safe and in good shape.
"We've not had any incidents at the Straits along Line 5 in almost 65 years now, so it continues to do the job and safely deliver energy," he said.
Megan Hawthorne, Schuette's press secretary, referred to the attorney general's past statement on Line 5 calling for a timetable to shut down Line 5 and to consider replacements. He also suggested banning crude oil transport under the Straits and finding the same alternatives the new proposal suggests.
A message left at Snyder's office wasn't returned Tuesday.
Michigan Agency for Energy spokesman Nick Assendelft said in an email that the agency will take all available information into account. That includes the results of a risk analysis that Michigan Technological University and Dr. Guy Meadows will conduct.
“All options are still on the table, including shutting down Line 5," Assendelft said. "The state believes the path it has laid out is the most prudent way to protect all of Michigan’s waterways.”
It's the latest salvo in a long battle over the pipeline's fate. The pipeline can't last forever, opponents contend, and any rupture in the straits would lead to an environmental and economic disaster. Members of Oil & Water Don't Mix believe the only way to prevent such a mishap is to shut down the pipeline.
State officials first ordered a review of the pipeline starting in 2014.
Snyder then signed an agreement with Enbridge in November aimed at bolstering the pipeline's safety. That came after the company revealed it had failed to report gaps in the underwater pipeline's protective coating for years.
Pipeline opponents point to Enbridge's track record — Line 5 itself has leaked numerous times in other locations, and in 2010 another Enbridge line ruptured near Marshall, dumping 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
Enbridge officials highlight Line 5's economic impact, another area where the company and pipeline opponents disagree.
Kirkwood said much of the oil the line carries goes elsewhere, with just 5 percent going to Michigan's needs.
But Duffy said the impact is more substantial. The line supplies much of what a Detroit refinery turns into fuel, which accounts for 30 percent of the state's needs. Other refineries the pipeline supplies also ship fuel to Michigan users.
The proposal from Oil & Water Don't Mix suggests using other pipelines to supply those refineries.
Kirkwood said she hopes the proposal serves as an addendum — and rebuttal — to Dynamic Risk Assessment's 2017 Alternatives Analysis Report. She and others believe it fell short in seriously considering other alternatives, including existing pipelines. It also seemed to steer the discussion toward a new tunnel to replace the line's straits crossing.
"I think this decommissioning plan is also of hope, that Line 5 is a solvable problem that Michigan must focus its attention on," she said.