Pipeline issues put refineries’ future in doubt

Larry Limpf

A decision on the fate of a pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan will have an impact on the economy of Northwest Ohio, says Gov. Mike DeWine in a recent letter to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“Ohio has two refineries near the border that supply a significant percent of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to Ohio and Southeast Michigan. In fact, our refineries supply the majority of aviation fuels to Detroit Metro Airport that cannot currently be replaced in any significant capacity without Line 5. Our states have much at risk in terms of potential fuel price spikes, lost jobs, airline schedule disruptions and lost transportation project funding,” the letter says. “We ask that you please consider options to improve the safety of Line 5 that does not result in taking the pipeline offline.”
Enbridge, Inc., headquartered in Calgary, Canada, announced last December it had reached an agreement with the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority to replace its Line 5 with a pipeline in a tunnel bored under the lake bed. Former Gov. Rick Snyder was in office at the time.
But Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion that the legislation to allow for the tunnel was unconstitutional.
More recently, Nessel issued a statement saying she respected Gov. Whitmer’s effort to find a “swift and straightforward resolution to this issue, but if unsuccessful I will use every resource to our office to shut down Line 5 to protect our Great Lakes.”
The pipeline was the subject of much scrutiny after it was struck by an anchor in April 2018. Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard approved a “no anchor” zone along the Straits.
Last week, Lt. Gov. John Husted toured the Toledo Refining Co. on Woodville Road.
Scott Hayes, a spokesman for the company, said the tour was organized to bring attention to the importance of the pipeline to the economies of Michigan and Ohio.
While there has been much discussion about the need for supplying the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with propane gas, “What has been lost has been what the impact will be to jobs in Ohio and Michigan,” he said. “A ripple effect would be very punitive to this area.”
The Toledo refinery employs about 600 but that number swells almost daily to about 1,000 when contract workers, including engineers, technicians and the skilled trades are on-site for maintenance and related work.
Hayes said commodity trading regulations prevent the company from publicly disclosing the amount of fuel it receives at the refinery via the pipeline but said it is a “significant amount” of crude oil.
“We don’t have a lot of options for finding other sources,” he said.
State Representative Michael Sheehy last week issued a statement supporting Gov. DeWine’s pipeline stance.
“This relatively small piece of infrastructure fuels a massive piece of our regional transportation system,” said Rep. Sheehy. “My record demonstrates a long history of environmental advocacy, but you can’t just disrupt such a critical energy supply chain without a clear plan to replace it. Michigan’s recent actions have gone too far without a full consideration of the consequences, which will fall most devastatingly on working class families and communities that depend on a diverse, stable energy portfolio and strong union jobs.”
Environmental groups, including For Love of Water, have been critical of agreements between the Snyder administration and Enbridge that allows for the continued operation of the 65-year-old pipeline for seven to 10 years – the estimated time required to design and build a new pipeline.
Among other concerns, FLOW says the agreements don’t provide sufficient financial guarantees by Enbridge to mitigate the threat of a pipeline failure.


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