I've Got to Have You - Enbridge's Line 5 Faces New Scrutiny

The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t the only interstate liquids pipe facing an uncertain future. The fate of Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches either light crude oil or a propane/butanes mix from Superior, WI, through Michigan and into Ontario, also hangs in the balance as the company renews its battle with Michigan’s top elected officials to keep the 67-year-old pipeline open and its effort win regulatory approval to replace the pipe’s most important water crossing. Line 5 supporters say that closing the 540-Mb/d pipeline would slash supplies to residential and commercial propane consumers in the Great Lakes State, steam crackers in Ontario, and refineries and gasoline blenders in three states and two Canadian provinces. Critics of Line 5 counter that there are plenty of supply alternatives. Today we discuss the pipeline, what it transports, and who it serves, as well as challenges it faces.

Line 5 is part of Enbridge’s much larger Mainline/Lakehead pipeline system from Western Canada to the U.S. heartland. The company’s Superior terminal in northwestern Wisconsin is the end point for the system’s Lines 1, 3, and 4 from Edmonton, AB; Line 67 from Hardisty, AB; and Line 2B from Cromer, MB (all shown as the yellow line in Figure 1) — and has the capacity to handle 2.8 MMb/d of incoming and outgoing liquids (most of them light, medium or heavy crudes). Line 5 (dark blue line) runs from Superior through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), across the Straits of Mackinac (the last syllable is pronounced “aw”), and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, which instead of being called the LP is known as “the mitten” because of its shape. (Interesting fact: Michiganders who live on the UP are called “yoopers,” and yoopers call the folks who live in the mitten “trolls” because they live “under” the Mackinac Bridge. Get it?) At the Straits of Mackinac (small red oval) — the four-mile-wide water passage between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron — the 30-inch-diameter, single-pipe Line 5 splits into two 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipes that are anchored along the straits’ lakebed. (More on that crossing in a moment.) The eastern end of Line 5 goes under the St. Clair River to the petrochemical hub in Sarnia, ON.

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