Michigan draft analyzes alternatives to Enbridge’s Line 5 system

A new crude oil pipeline across the Mackinac Straits between Lakes Michigan and Huron would be more efficient and have fewer potential environmental impacts than pipeline or rail route alternatives, a draft analysis commissioned by Michigan’s Petroleum Pipelines Task Force suggested.

A new crude oil pipeline across the Mackinac Straits between Lakes Michigan and Huron would be more efficient and have fewer potential environmental impacts than pipeline or rail route alternatives, a draft analysis commissioned by Michigan’s Petroleum Pipelines Task Force suggested.

The analysis does not make recommendations, and comments on it will be accepted online, by e-mail, or at three public meetings through Aug. 6, the division of the Michigan Agency for Energy said as it released the draft on June 29. The public meetings will be held in the communities of Holt and Traverse City on July 24, and in Ignace on July 25.

The examination by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems Inc. (DRAS) quickly eliminated some alternatives to Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 system, which moves natural gas liquids as well as crude through two 20-in. pipelines across the straits.

“For example, there were limited options for using existing pipeline infrastructure due to limited capacity on existing assets, whether they are owned by Enbridge or other parties,” it said. “Even in cases under consideration, it was highly probable that either a newbuild pipeline or alternative transportation such as rail would be required to manage capacity.”

Tanker trucks were eliminated because about 3,200/day would be needed to move volumes comparable to what now moves through Line 5, the draft study said. Using tankers and barges also looked impractical because they would require more than $4.3 billion in operational and capital costs, and would have to move through locks on the St. Mary River at Sault Ste. Marie which are closed for repairs 2.5 months/year, it added.

Of the three possible alternatives for building a pipeline away from the straits, DRAS evaluated a 762-mile southern alternative that it said could follow existing pipelines for most of the way but probably would encounter opposition in urban areas. It also would pose increased safety, monetized environmental, and told economic risks compared to the existing crossing, it said.

“The alternatives remote to the Straits Crossing present a failure frequency, safety risk, total economic risk, and monetized environment risk that is greater than any of the alternatives in proximity to the existing Straits Crossing. They also would not be available at the required scale for 3-5 years,” the analysis said. It also identified costs and challenges involved with building a pipeline across the straits as well as continuing to use the existing system.

The American Petroleum Institute’s Michigan division in Lansing welcomed the taskforce’s release of the analysis. “It further confirms that pipelines are among the safest and most efficient ways to transport crude oil,” API Michigan Executive Director Peter Langley said. “Alternative transportation methods to Michigan’s Line 5 pipeline were evaluated and ultimately eliminated due to a greater potential for environmental incidents and higher energy costs for Michigan consumers.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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