Pipelines are lifelines to refineries, steam crackers, and other consumers of energy commodities, and even the hint that a major pipeline may be shut down raises big-time concerns. For evidence, look no further than Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches light crude oil and a propane/normal-butane mix across Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and to points beyond. One of Line 5’s two pipes under the Straits of Mackinac is temporarily out of service, halving the 540-Mb/d pipeline’s throughput, and Michigan’s attorney general continues to pursue a lawsuit that, if successful, could be Line 5’s death knell. Enbridge also is facing a fight on its plan to replace the twin underwater pipes with a new, safer “tunnel” alternative. All of which raises the question, what would be the market effects if Line 5 is permanently closed? Today, we conclude a miniseries on one of the Upper Midwest’s most important liquids pipelines.
As we said in Part 1, Line 5 is part of Enbridge’s much larger Mainline/Lakehead pipeline system, which transports a variety of liquid hydrocarbons from Western Canada and, to a lesser extent, the Bakken to the U.S. Midwest and Ontario. Line 5 is one of five pipelines out of Enbridge’s Superior terminal in northwestern Wisconsin; from there, it runs through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, across the Straits of Mackinac and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (known as “the mitten”), then across the St. Clair River to Sarnia, ON. (All of the pipelines and other infrastructure discussed in this blog can be viewed on the Figure 1 map, which uses RBN’s interactive MIDI map platform.) At the Straits of Mackinac — 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.
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