Republicans peddle lies about impact of Line 5 shutdown

Nov 15, 2021 at 3:32 pm
The Line 5 pipeline sends oil and natural gas liquid through the Straits of Mackinac. - Jeffness, Wikimedia Commons
Jeffness, Wikimedia Commons
The Line 5 pipeline sends oil and natural gas liquid through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Republicans and right-wing groups are spreading lies about the controversial Line 5 pipeline, falsely claiming that a shutdown is imminent and would drastically increase heating costs as winter approaches.

In November 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Canada-based Enbridge to shut down the oil and natural gas liquid pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac by May, saying it had violated a 1953 easement agreement with the state and presents “an extraordinary and unacceptable risk to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.”

Enbridge, which was responsible for a disastrous oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in July 2010, has defied Whitmer’s order.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by the state is wending its way through the courts.

Two conservative groups tied to the west Michigan DeVos family – Michigan Freedom Fund and Michigan Rising Action – are spreading falsehoods about the impact of a shutdown on families, while ignoring the environmental hazards of Line 5.

“With Energy rates skyrocketing, @GovWhitmer wants to make gas prices and heating costs even more unaffordable for Michigan families,” Michigan Rising Action, a dark money group, tweeted last week, posting a link to a blog on its website that is full of misleading information.

They provided no evidence that shutting down the pipeline would increase fuel prices. Between 90% and 95% of the light crude oil carried by Line 5 is sent to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, according to For Love of Water (FLOW), a Traverse City-based nonprofit. A tiny fraction is destined for Detroit and two refineries in Toledo. If the pipeline is shut down, there are other sources, including the Capline and Mid-Valley pipelines, according to FLOW.

Enbridge disputes these figures, and says approximately 30% of the light crude oil on Line 5 goes to Detroit-area refineries to be used in Michigan. But Detroit area refineries do not rely on this source and could find alternatives once Line 5 is shut down. According to the 2018 London Economics report, “if all the Detroit/Toledo requirements were met by Line 78 and the Mid-Valley Pipeline, there would be 343,200 barrels per day of capacity left over.”

Enbridge also says Line 5 provides more than half of all the propane used in the state, and Michigan uses more propane than any other state. But critics say Enbridge inflates these numbers, which is echoed by a study from FLOW that found fewer than 1 in 5 U.P. households use propane.

Enbridge also says Michigan would be short more than 750,000 gallons daily of propane without Line 5, but critics say this fails to recognize the years of studies that have been conducted that consider alternatives, in addition to the four-step plan from the Whitmer administration earlier this year to find alternative sources for propane.

Enbridge also claims that "all the studies of the situation from all sides have determined prices of propane would go up if Line 5 shut down," but both industry-aligned and environmental-aligned studies have concluded the opposite. FLOW cited a study commissioned by the Republican Rick Snyder administration. The National Wildlife Federation-commissioned London Economics study concluded that any consumer price increase “would be lost in the noise of usual propane price volatility.” And the Petoskey News-Review reported earlier this year, “But many analyses — both independent and state-funded — have suggested the economic impact of a Line 5 shutdown would be less drastic, and that the impact on energy costs (such as gasoline) to consumers could be negligible.”

Republican and conservative groups who are using scare tactics about Line 5 point to escalating energy costs, without explaining why prices are on the rise. Driving up the cost of propane and natural are exports and price-gouging, which have nothing to do with Line 5.

“Lake Superior isn’t deep enough to get to the bottom of the lies that the critics of Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel spread about the pair’s efforts to protect the Great Lakes and stop energy price gouging,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a progressive nonprofit, said in a statement Monday. “Enbridge and the fossil fuel lobby spend millions of dollars to misinform the public and these right-wing groups and elected officials are part of the problem. Michiganders have got to understand how the fossil fuel lobby is driving up energy costs for everyone.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley, who regularly downplays COVID-19 and spreads lies about vaccines and election fraud, took the hyperbole and falsehoods even further, trying to implicate President Joe Biden’s administration, which said Monday that it does not support shutting down Line 5, at least not for now.

“As winter approaches, Biden wants Michiganders to suffer with skyrocketed heating prices or without heat at all,” Kelley tweeted. “Whitmer just sits by smiling, not fighting for Michigan residents, like normal.”

Republican U.S. Reps. Lisa McClain and Tim Walberg also suggested earlier this month that Line 5 is integral to keeping energy costs down in Michigan.

Whatever happens, Line 5 won’t shut down anytime soon, and Republicans are only scaring residents into believing otherwise.

For nearly a decade, Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, and scientists have warned about the potential for an oil spill from Line 5, which ships 540,000 barrels a day of crude and refined products from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. Tribal governments and environmental groups have sought legal injunctions to shut down the pipeline.

The Great Lakes are home to 21% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water to 48 million people, including 5 million Michigan residents.

This story was updated Tuesday, Nov. 16 with comments from Enbridge.

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