The Climate Fight Over Line 5, or the Upper Peninsula and Canada Versus Greenhouse Gas Absolutism

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A row over Line 5, an oil pipeline running from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarina, Ontario, is the biggest US climate fight you almost certainly haven’t heard of. Doomberg has an excellent post on its role and the stakes, which we are mining liberally.

We’re featuring this pipeline fight not just for its own importance but also because it illustrates several issues that climate change activists and politicians don’t seem willing to consider. First, as we have said repeatedly, that plans serious enough to prevent the worst climate outcome will have to include radical conservation. Second is an unwillingness to look hard at existing conditions and figure out where and to what extent it makes sense to create new “green” infrastructure, which may be green in carbon cost terms but not necessarily in terms of other environmental costs. Third is that some elements of modern lifestyles like suburbs with detached single family homes, are untenably bad for the environment (even if their energy needs can be met with solar panels, the people who live in them need to provision their houses, drive to doctors and schools and often to work, and a lot more than if they were housed differently) but no one is willing to say bad things about this American mainstay.

For instance, yesterday, OilPrice highlighted Biden’s climate hypocrisy:

But what happens when Americans aren’t ready to move on from oil, and new domestic supplies aren’t meeting demand?

That’s the position we currently find ourselves in. The Biden Administration could respond in one of two ways.

They could say “High oil prices will speed up the transition to renewable energy” — which is certainly how they feel privately. After all, U.S. officials attended the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow this week, where they discussed plans to reduce carbon emissions. They could tell Americans to take their medicine, live with higher gas prices, and then privately hope that hastens the transition to green energy.

But people don’t like paying higher gasoline prices. So, the first irony is that the Biden Administration asked OPEC to pump more oil, undermining its COP26 messaging of reducing fossil fuel consumption. At the G-20 meeting in Rome, President Biden complained:

The idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work, for example, is not right.

Now to the Line 5 case study. Line 5 delivers 540,000 barrels of oil daily, versus US consumption of 18 million barrels a day. It has operated for 70 years with an excellent safety record.

As Doomberg explains:

There are two main problems with Line 5. The first is that for a four-mile stretch it runs under the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Should a catastrophic leak occur, the pipeline could contaminate priceless shorelines and potentially threaten the Great Lakes themselves, which hold some 20% of the total freshwater on earth. The second is that [current operator] Enbridge had a significant (but unrelated) pipeline spill in Michigan back in 2010. Known as the Kalamazoo River oil spill, the incident resulted in significant local environmental damage. For a period of 17 hours, the company struggled to understand that a leak was even occurring, unwilling to believe what its own sensors were indicating. This slow response exacerbated the damage and crushed Enbridge’s credibility with local authorities.

There’s a direct line from that incident to the major push by environmentalists to proactively shutter Line 5 today. Unlike opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, a project which was never completed, Line 5 is a preexisting critical artery of the North American energy infrastructure. This seems like an important precedent in the making.

Doomberg also published Enbridge’s defense, which is that the pipeline has never had a spill, was built by Bechtel, and was overengineered as well as sited so as to minimize corrosion risk and is intensively monitored.

The wee problem is that even if you initially come down on the side of thinking the pipeline is too risky to be allowed to continue, you are then faced with the fact that the alternatives are worse. People in that part of the world, including Canada, need that oil and related products. If the pipeline were decommissioned, that huge volume of oil would need to be hauled via railroad or truck. Remember the Lac-Mégantic rail car explosion, which killed 47? And that’s before the fact that delivering oil via an existing pipeline is also greener than running trucks and trains around.

Doomberg uses the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to illustrate the problem. Doomberg has noticed that it has really serious winters, although he uses photos of lake effect snow on the south side of Lake Superior to make the point. They aren’t quite as bad as Rochester, New York, but most mere mortals would be impressed.

However, having lived a mere 60 miles south of Marquette (the biggest town, on Lake Superior) in Escanaba, on Lake Michigan, that lake effect snow tails off pretty quickly. The real issue is the Upper Peninsula is mighty cold. One January in Escanaba, the temperature never got above zero and the low was 27 below. I learned then that at 5 below, you feel your nose hairs freeze and unfreeze with each breath, and at 15 below, you feel the cold bite in your windpipe. Oh, and most of the winter, we plugged the car in to keep the engine block from freezing overnight.

We still had it soft compared to people in more remote areas. Remember the Upper Peninsula has only 300,000 people and is very low density. Note the white propane tank in the photo below. That’s for heat.

Michigan has a higher proportion of homes using propane for heating than any other state. Doomberg’s graphic shows use levels across the Upper Peninsula:

And Line 5 supplies half of the material for downstate’s propane and 2/3 of the Upper Peninsula’s supply.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who won by 10 points in 2018, promised to close Line 5 as part of her campaign. Jointly with the Department of Natural Resources, she tried cracking down on the pipeline in November 2020 by revoking its easement to operate under the Straits of Mackinac. Operator Enbridge has not acted on the order and had gotten the Government of Canada to go to bat for them. Again from Doomberg:

The Line 5 story is huge in Canada – but not for reasons you might think, especially not after listening to Trudeau’s high-minded speech at COP26. Instead, even Canada is alarmed at the prospect of shuttering the pipeline. Trudeau has gone as far as to invoke Canada’s treaty rights under a deal signed with the United States in 1977.

And from a Detroit News story in early October:

The Canadian government on Monday formally invoked a 1977 treaty that the country’s officials say prevents the U.S. government or Michigan from disrupting the operation of Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, effectively pulling the Biden administration into the dispute over the pipeline’s future…

Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under President Bill Clinton who is now acting ascounsel for the government of Canada, informed U.S. District Judge Janet Neff of the rare invocation of the 1977 transit pipeline treaty in a Monday court filing. Giffin asked the Western District of Michigan judge to pause her consideration of the case during treaty negotiations.

In the filing, Canada said it had invoked the treaty provisions “through diplomatic channels” earlier in the day and made a formal request to begin negotiations with the U.S. The U.S. State Department did not return a request seeking comment.

The 1977 agreement between President Jimmy Carter and Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, put limits on transit pipeline actions that may harm the energy supply in either country. Monday marks the first invocation of the treaty since it was signed.

Canada’s letter to the judge comes more than two weeks after court filings indicated mediation talks between the state and Line 5 owner Enbridge over the future of Line 5 are largely at a dead end…

In March, Canada’s natural resources minister Seamus O’Regan told a parliamentary panel that the continued operation of the pipeline was “non-negotiable.”

A statement by Enbridge, a Canadian company, thanked “Team Canada” which is understood to include the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec to pressure Whitmer.

This treaty ju-jitsu came as Enbridge had gotten the case against it move from state to Federal court and Michigan was trying to get it back in state court.

Needless to say, it is over my pay grade to assess the remote but clearly disastrous possibility of a pipeline break into the Great Lakes (versus what would seem to be more probable, a break elsewhere that would contaminate groundwater and potentially contributory streams and rivers) versus the ongoing climate costs of shipping the oil above ground.

But as Doomberg indicates, if the Line 5 shutdown advocates prevail, it would represent a major precedent. And just as Biden revealed he’s only willing to protect the environment if it won’t cost him too many votes, Line 5 opponents can make the same case against Trudeau.

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    Hmmm. I’m not in agreement with this argument for keeping the pipeline around: “People in that part of the world, including Canada, need that oil and related products. If the pipeline were decommissioned, that huge volume of oil would need to be hauled via railroad or truck.”

    The local consumers aren’t buying their natural gas tanks for heating or their gasoline off the pipeline. Line 5 is one more pipeline disrupting the land and passing through areas better left undisturbed–the argument of the Anishinaabeg and other peoples with long histories around the Great Lakes.

    It isn’t as if the pipeline has a retail store on one of the reservations to supply the locals.

    Further, if we look at this geographically and historically, the pipeline is quite an error. Crossing under the Straits of Mackinac presents the geographical problem of a vulnerable pipeline in a powerful lake (and we can take Michigan-Huron as one gigantic freshwater inland sea, with attendant problems besides the fudge shops on Mackinac Island).

    Also, the Straits of Mackinac were the historic center of trade and settlement for the Ottawa people (one of the three Anishinaabe nations). One keeps wondering why pipelines and other messes keep being sited on land of historic importance to Native Americans.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The story VERY clearly stated that 2/3 of the UP’s propane comes from that pipeline. You can’t handwave that away. In no time on Google I found corroboration from local sources.

      Whitmer’s plans for getting rid of Line 5 explicitly call for tens of millions to build more railroads and propane storage to substitute for the pipeline. That could never have been in place by her Enbridge drop dead date of May 13, 2020. Her substitute infrastructure plan has to be approved by the legislature, and both houses are controlled by Republicans. Think that is gonna happen?

      More generally, this is the typical top 10% approach to climate change: “Let them eat EVs/solar panels” and not working through what is actually required for that to happen. The lack of anything approaching adequate planning and execution is pervasive.

      And as part of the Dooomberg piece that I didn’t include make clear, propane alternatives or substitute delivery means will be more costly…when people who live in the woods in the UP on propane are going to be almost without exception poor.

      1. brook trout

        The photo above is of what is known in the U.P. as a deer camp; it’s obviously not a main domicile (the antlers, the size and design of the structure, and the lack of electrical wires leading to the structure are all tells). As such, it does not represent those “who live in the woods . . almost without exception poor.” Being a native Yooper myself, and growing up decidedly poor, I knew who could afford deer camps and who could not. There has been a move in the last decades to making deer camps into retirement homes (with attendant “snowbird” activity, i.e. heading south for the worst part of our brutal winters) and these undoubtedly have propane, but I would not characterize their denizens as poor. Owning a second piece of property and building on it is beyond the scope of the poor I know.
        As far as the pipeline itself, you lay out the quandary quite well. No easy answers here for a society that seeks almost nothing but.

        1. endeavor

          I live in Northern Michigan. The pipe was damaged by a freighter dragging it’s anchor and damaged and then repaired. Shipping does not anchor there as a rule and this was a fluke. The water is over 300 feet deep. It’s has been inspected relentlessly since then and found to be in good shape. The Army Corps of Engineers has also done so and I understand a report is due soon on it’s condition. This area is very stable on a geological standpoint. Enbridge wants to build another pipeline to replace this even though the existing one seems solid to satisfy the concerns. Whitmer wants it closed down in what, frankly, seems to be another economic mayhem creating opportunity like what we have been seeing lately in this country.

          1. The Rev Kev

            ‘Shipping does not anchor there as a rule and this was a fluke.’

            Was that a pun by any chance?

          2. Mantid

            One way to deal with this (and so many) situations is to imagine what it was like to stay warm in 1850. People did it somehow. With Cop 25, or 29, or 50 (whatever the number is) it is quite evident nothing radical regarding energy will be done by the humans that control the humans (.1%). The humans on this planet have a fast moving cancer and we’re about to become terminally (a pun for the Rev) ill – unless we sever our cancerous legs. Would you rather die or get around in a wheelchair? Stop with fossil fuels now or be stopped.

            1. Bakes

              One way to deal with this (and so many) situations is to imagine what it was like to stay warm in 1850. People did it somehow.

              True, to a great extent they did it by burning wood. Which has its own set of issues with carbon release, noxious smoke products, and deforestation issues.

              There were also far fewer people in the region (and elsewhere worldwide.)

              I fear there are no good solutions.

      2. J

        Sorry Yves, DJG’s main point is correct. The pipeline does not transport propane
        directly to anyone in Michigan. Enbridge states that “Overall, Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids (NGLs), which are refined into propane.” The pipeline contents are refined to finished products (including propane) at the Sarnia-Lambdon refineries and then transported to markets (in the UP and elsewhere) largely by train and truck.

        Line 5 exists to serve the Sarnia-Lambdon refinery complex. I haven’t seen any discussion of perhaps using other refineries than those in Sarnia in order to avoid the ecologically sensitive straits route. I suppose larger economic forces are at play to keep things the way they are. Refineries aren’t trivial things to build but perhaps some of the refineries in Chicago could handle this material. This wouldn’t require a lake crossing and the distance to the UP propane markets are about the same as from Sarnia.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are straw manning what I wrote. Saying the the propane “comes from that pipeline” is no different than saying “The gas produced by X refinery comes from Y pipeline.” No pipeline = no propane.

          And per comments above, the UP propane is made in the UP, near Rapid River, so your statement is not correct:

          “The propane that serves the UP is manufactured WITHIN THE UP. A tiny portion of the massive oil transport on line 5 is bled off into the propane plant in Rapid River, near Escanaba.”

          So don’t play accuracy police when you don’t have the facts right.

      3. Anonymous

        The propane that serves the UP is manufactured WITHIN THE UP. A tiny portion of the massive oil transport on line 5 is bled off into the propane plant in Rapid River, near Escanaba. I believe that the part of Line 5 that runs under the Straits does not carry any propane at all . It carries massive amounts of Canadian tar sands oil traveling east across Michigan into the Canadian refinery in Sarnia Ontario. From Canada back into Canada. Please take that into consideration when arguing that propane would be unavailable in the UP without the straits of mackinac crossing. Propane could be manufactured in Rapid River using just a fractional amount of oil , coming from any available source.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is off point to the two arguments in the post. And it is also a straw man. Nowhere did I say that Canada wanted or needed propane. The post refers ONLY to propane use in the Upper Peninsula and in passing to the northern part of the lower peninsula.

          One is that in fact, as Governor Whitmers’ own plans show, tens of millions of dollars of new rail would need to be built to allow for the propane inputs to be delivered. So this would have the climate cost of building the railroad and the ongoing CO2 cost of running the rail line.

          Second is that Canada very much wants the product that Line 5 delivers and is stomping on Whitmer.

      4. Sean McBrearty

        While the 2/3 number you reference for Line 5’s contribution for the UP propane supply is roughly accurate, it needs further clarification. Line 5 runs light crude most of the time, but a few days each month it runs NGLs. A small amount of the NGLs are siphoned off at a propane fractionator in Rapid River, close to Escanaba in the UP. This is where that 65% of the UP’s propane supply comes from, but let’s break down that 65% number a bit further. There are roughly 123,000 households in the UP, of those, roughly 20,000 rely on propane for winter heating. 65% of that 20,000 get their propane from sources that get some amount of their propane from Line 5, so roughly 12,000 households get propane from Line 5 in the UP. The rest of the product that travels through Line 5 goes mainly to refineries in Sarnia. A small amount goes to a refinery in Detroit and another in NW Ohio. What is unclear though is how much of the Line 5 product that goes back to Canada at Sarnia ends up going through Line 9 and getting sent to Montreal and potentially overseas from there.

      5. R

        I am puzzled by the article. It stated that “And Line 5 supplies half of the material for downstate’s propane and 2/3 of the Upper Peninsula’s supply.” but it is an oil pipeline. Propane is not oil. There is some mention of it transporting natural gas liquids (natural gas liquified under modest pressures) but this is a mixture of gases and again is not propane. Whatever is in the pipeline needs processing before it can serve domestic propane customers.

        Moreover, Line 5 terminates in Sarnia in Canada which is a major refining centre and apparently was previously the termination of another line from Montreal but the flow of this pipeline was recently reversed to enable Western Canada petroleum products to be shipped into Quebec for refining via Line 5.

        It seems to me that Line 5 has very little to do with the retail distribution of heating propane in the Upper Peninsula, given that it is supplying refiners in Canada (either across the border from Detroit or in Quebec). It is obviously still a risk to the Great Lakes but closing it will not affect retail distribution of propane gas, which is already coming from somewhere else to reach the Upper Peninsula.

    2. Carolinian

      One keeps wondering why pipelines and other messes keep being sited on land of historic importance to Native Americans.

      Since they once occupied the country can’t you always find some area that is “sacred” to the indigenous? I get that environmentalists are always in an uphill fight and depend on emotional appeals. A famous example is David Brower’s NYTimes ad showing the Sistine Chapel filled with water as way of opposing the damming of the Grand Canyon.

      But in this case the dam is already there and suddenly taking it away would create huge disruption as well as possibly even worse environmental problems. The same debate has taken place re the Colonial gasoline pipeline that passes within five miles of my house. And it too has had some leaks. However ordinary people naturally worry about the the economy and the here and now and feeding their children before the yet to happen future. This isn’t evil on their part and it’s quite likely that those who pretend it is know that they personally won’t face the same problems and consequences.

      Obviously some kind of government intervention to control AGW is needed but so far politcal grandstanding has been the solution of choice. As with Covid scientists, not politicians, should be hatching manageable solutions.

  2. Dave in Austin

    I’m always a bit cynical about modern American “crisis de jour” journalism. From “illegal immigrants at the border” to “you’re disrespecting trans athletes” to “the pipeline could be disastrous” to “a poll says most Americans don’t know that Hitler killed six million Jews”, all these emergencies have a few things in common.

    First, they are used by advocacy organizations and their media allies to raise funds and “mobilize the masses” as the left used to say. Second, when one problem is surprisingly “resolved” (ie the Supreme Court discovers the founders wanted to protect gay marriage), immediately the advocacy press opens a new front like the NYT did in turning to trans rights. Third, the obvious, legitimate ways to mitigating the risks are ignored (four mile underwater pipeline: is there a valve at each end to reduce the damage? Is there a “reverse the pumps” system to suck the oil out of the line if it leaks, put it in tanks and let the line fill with water so almost no oil leaks out?). Fourth, we get the “A suit has been filed” and “A judge has issued a temperary injunction” report filed by the breathless advocacy press. Finally we get the media events: the governor of Texas at the border or the “native American” protesters blocking the road (with the cooperation of government officials).

    I’m not sure it was wise when in the 1970s-1980s the US decided that an economic union from Mexico’s southern border to the Arctic ocean made sense. But that’s what we have. And the requirement that some local judge in Merida, Michigan or Moose Bay can’t be allowed to interfere in order to pander to local sentiment, of necessity, is built into the deal. But the media/PR crisis de jour cycle keeps on going; the rubes must be entertained and enraged.

    Finally, today is Veteran’s Day, or what we used to call Armistice Day, the memorial to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when a rapidly disintegrating Germany accepted the inevitable and in effect surrendered to the allies and ended what was called “the war to end all wars”.

    It didn’t turn out that way. A Congressional Act on May 13, 1938, made November 11 a legal holiday: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day”. This happened to coincide with the end of peace and the advent of WW II.

    After that war, when WW II vets outnumbered the surviving WW I vets, the holiday was re-branded as Veterans Day. American new wars have now made this a perpetual event, with old vets parading and the pols making the appropriate speeches, all made a bit easier by the end of the draft so that the new vets are now “OPCs” (other people’s children).

    And to deepen my amusement, here is the Google searchbar picture of the day at:

    80% of the living vets may be white and 98% male, but multiculturalism (in the form of ethnic, class and gender caricatures) marches on. As a form of reparations or restorative justice should we draft only women for the next war?

      1. Mantid

        Speaking of war, there are many poppy sightings in Afghanistan. Too bad the Americans won’t profit from those flowers much anymore.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The sentiment that . . . “And the requirement that some local judge in Merida, Michigan or Moose Bay can’t be allowed to interfere in order to pander to local sentiment” . . . . is exactly the colonial imperial attitude that NAFTA was based on. Which is why NAFTA will have to be exterminated and abolished to restore genuine permission-to-exist to local democracy.

      I consider “pandering to local sentiment” when it is a matter of basic law to be more important than pandering to our Colonial NAFTA Overlords’s profits and power.

  3. Otis B Driftwood

    An important related question is how can we move everyone to heating systems that use clean, sustainable energy?

    1. Jack Pine

      Most folks in the UP at least already have such systems installed: the wood stove. Certainly no lack of fuel up there for them either.

        1. divadab

          It is carbon-neutral if from a sustainably-managed woodlot. Much better than fossil fuels. And cutting, bucking, splitting, and stacking firewood is very healthy exercise in the fresh air.

          Thanks for making the perfect purist’s impractical and not helpful comment. You can’t transition by jumping off a cliff. How do you heat your house? If by fossil fuels (directly or indirectly via electricity), the UP’er heating her house with wood is already doing much more than you in the real world to transition from fossil fuels, and is carbon-neutral v. your carbon positivity.

          1. Susan the other

            Have the Governor look into a federal subsidy for buying up several bankrupt shopping malls or motels, etc. in Texas and New Mexico (maybe not Arizona as they are having such serious water problems, but maybe later). Retrofit them as comfortable condos; do a few restaurants and shops; bowling alleys, and ticket everyone who wants to get out of the UP from November thru March down to a southern climate. If the migration is a boon to the economies of the south then that is net-net. And they can all go back home for the warmer months. It could almost painlessly eliminate the need for propane heat. Give them solar for the summer. Why don’t we ever consider yearly migration?

            1. Duke of Prunes

              Why don’t people migrate? Many do and they’re called “snowbirds”. They’re mostly retired people. What conclusion can we draw from this? Many people with jobs can’t migrate because their jobs don’t migrate.

        2. Mantid

          Not even close to what oil/gas/propane emit. Besides, modern wood stoves have double burners and catalytic converters. It’s not grandpa’s wood stove anymore.

        3. drumlin woodchuckles

          The CO2 it releases came from the air to begin with. That’s where the trees sucked it down from to grow and make wood with. So burning firewood is not putting any new fossil carbon into the air.

    2. Louis Fyne

      will not happen without fission (move to electric heat/geothermal hvac + lots of insulation) or a Star Trek-level breakthrough in battery tech decades out (see seasonal variability of wind).

      “fission” is a banned word but that is the thermodynamics of it.

  4. upstater

    The solution is very easy… build half a dozen of Bill Gates 300MW mini nuclear reactors in the UP to generate electricity. Then cut off propane and heating oil supplies and mandate geothermal heat pumps for residential heating (Only a $25K conversion). The bonus is the plebes will be able to charge their $40K Teslas or F150 Lightnings. /sarc

    On a more serious note, at the COP26 talk shoppe, Mark Carney boasted of $130 Trillion (a “T” and not a “B”) in finance capital commitments to fund net zero. He neglected to mention this double or triple counts all sorts of holdings and investments. Smoke (literally) and mirrors.

  5. solarjay

    I’m wondering if anyone can point me to a complete description of radical conservation and how much this can actually help towards the climate emergency.

    I’ve found a few definitions but I don’t know if this is exactly what is meant.
    One definition is to use less energy: Less driving, flying, eat more plants based food, turn down the heat, up the AC etc. But that only goes so far.
    Another has it to mean no new mining for anything, including solar and wind. No new transmission lines, no oil and gas…
    Plant trees is another, along with improvements in agriculture…
    I’ve seen someone mentioning upgrades to energy efficiency ( house insulation, heat pumps etc) but I’m not sure that falls under conservation as it involves lots of new things. Hence my question about the meaning of radical conservation.

    And I very much see the logic in all those meanings. Wind and solar will take a lot of resources to make and install as well as a lot of land area, lots of new transmission lines, let alone staggeringly large energy storage to get us off of gas and coal for electricity. Last year the US installed 1/3 of 1% of our electric grid and electricity is only about 1/2 of the total energy usage in the US. 60%+ of the electric grid is still fossil fuel, the other 1/2 is all FF.

    As I search for solutions that will work, I see more and more pushback against renewables on pretty much all fronts, making the transition away from FF further into the future. The guardian has a CO2 counter on their website, it goes up every day.

    So what are the options? We need an energy source that will work anywhere regardless of the weather or climate, small so it doesn’t take up much space and land, reducing or eliminating new transmission lines, quiet,
    carbon negative/neutral, and limited to no environmental pollution and we need a lot of it quickly.

    As a solar person for 25 years, it pains me but the only thing that I can think of that meets all these requirements are the new generation 4 nuclear plants. Here are two videos that explain the advantages of these new designs. But in brief the physics don’t allow for anything close to a meltdown and they can use the spent fuel sitting in every single nuclear plant with no where to go, that has a 30,000 year 1/2 life and reduce it to about 300 yr 1/2 life.

    So there will be the usual push back, to which I ask, OK so how do we reduce our carbon output to less than 0?


    1. Mantid

      Well, the usual push back is what do you do with the waste? Also, you ask “We need an energy source that will work anywhere regardless of the weather or climate”. The only fundamental answer to that is the Sun and/or the Earth’s core. The problem is, how to tap either of those without serious ramifications. It’s kind of like playing with fire.

  6. BeliTsari

    Jeepers, I’d thought the issue was Bitumen? Funny, how everyone keeps forgetting why THAT, mixed with Enbridge’s reputation seem BAD idea? (Did MANY gigs for Enbridge) None of this is arbitrary or exaggerated?

  7. Troutbum70

    So how do you clean up an oil spill in Lake Michigan in February under 3 feet of ice? You can’t!
    Enbridge is merely using Michigan as a shortcut, until Line 5 became an issue, none of the crude oil was used in America. As for the propane in the Upper Peninsula, Line 5 could terminate at Rapid River, about 25 miles north of Escanaba where it already distributes propane across the Upper Peninsula.

  8. Mark K

    In 2018 that consummate environmentalist Justin Trudeau got tired of activists and native peoples holding up a pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Port of Vancouver. His solution was simple: the Government of Canada bought the pipeline. End of protests.

  9. Andrew

    As a lifelong resident of the Upper Peninsula, half way between Marquette and Escanaba, I would like to contribute a few thoughts here. First thing comes to mind is that people generally live pretty close to the ground here but there is a distinct culture divide between woods workers, miners, farmers ect.. and the University students, PMC’s, and wealthier vacationers. There is however a commonality in the sense of place: It is tough, and it is beautiful. Some of us fall into both camps, I myself graduated from the university but made my way as a carpenter/contractor.
    Second thing I would like to add is that Line 5 around Escanaba / Rapid River runs through a lot of limestone and it is very permeable. I have been on well installs where you can hear running water in the drill hole, so I would expect that a leak would make quite a mess. As far as the pipe line goes I don’t like how old the pipe is and that the oil is for export purposes, but I have no problem with industry so long as its done right. A new 20″ gas pipeline was recently put in to Marquette which allowed for the elimination of two coal power generating stations and those guys did a wonderful job right down to the landscaping. The new directional boring technology is truly amazing. There is also a proposal to construct a tunnel under the the straights of Mackinaw for line 5 and other utilities so if there is problem it would be more accessible.
    One last thought is about wood; I grew up in a wood heated house, a big drafty one, and I can tell you that cutting and splitting 15 full cords a year or so is not for the faint of heart . Having lived through that, quite joyfully in fact, did make me a very energy conscious builder/re modeler though. Wood is also getting very expensive. In fact propane is usually cheaper than wood these days, but I still love the smell of wood heat, especially a wood sauna.

    1. meadows

      Wow, 15 cords! No kidding it was drafty. Thanks for the nuance of the neighborhood… wood is the most renewable heating resource. Used carefully in a non-drafty well insulated home using a modern woodstove…. well, it still pumps out a lotta crap into the air, probably best used in rural areas. Drive around a hilly, bitter cold and calm night in any rural area where homes are heating w/wood and see the nasty “fog” that settles in the hollows. And the stink of creosote.

      Unless you are blessed w/your own natural gas well (it happens!) wood is the best bet esp. if you own a woodlot.

  10. Zach

    I live in the UP, more specifically in the Keweenaw Peninsula which is the northernmost part of the UP, and near the dividing line between the supposed 14% propane use (Houghton County) and 33% (Keweenaw County).

    The core article by Yves is excellent and on point. Many of the comments from out of area, with ideas for substitution, reflect truly astounding levels of ignorance. Wherever you live, think of whatever crazy misunderstandings tourists and simple foreigners may have of your area, and multiply by 10.

    I suspect the chart of propane usage misses a ton of people who try to heat primarily with wood, but have and use propane as an essential backup. The availability of natural gas is very limited in the UP, only found in larger towns (of which only Marquette barely constitutes a “city”). N.B. that our electricity is the most expensive in the lower 48, so electric heat is a terrible option for either primary or backup heat.

    As others have stated, the UP does indeed get nearly all its propane from this pipeline, largely as a byproduct of its presence. Also note that the railroad network in the UP is very limited today, as with the closure of nearly all mines there isn’t enough demand to run it. There is an active but very short railroad between two iron mines, Marquette, and Escanaba. There is a longer but marginally used railroad running basically E-W through the UP, largely used for wood products. Major parts of the UP have no nearby rail service, and all transport is by truck. Pipelines work ideally for propane, while trucks are a poor substitute used mostly for end-user deliveries.

    Although not a pipeline engineer, I suspect that the existing line would not be practically useful solely for propane and ending at Rapid River. Pipelines generally need to run constantly at minimum pressures, and 1% of the demand for a 20″ pipeline isn’t going to do this.

    The pipeline is indeed an environmental risk. So are thousands and thousands of trucks attempting to take its place. Hancock, MI just had a gasoline tanker spill this spring that contaminated soil and the nearby canal that is part of Lake Superior. If we vastly increase the truck transport of petroleum, we can expect to vastly increase the number of tanker truck accidents and spills. Shutting the pipeline for claims of safety is false economy, and likely to make the environmental situation much worse, instead of better.

    The State of Michigan, under its prior governor, had agreed with Enbridge to place the straits crossing in a tunnel under the straits, which would eliminate any risk of lake water contamination. The Whitmer administration went back and repudiated this final and signed agreement for solely political reasons. There is no genuine environmental concern here, it is simply a disguise for the economic war of the billionaires against everyone else.

  11. Zach

    Here’s a long and detailed local (Michigan statewide site) article on the situation, discussing the wide range of practical, environmental, and political issues involved.

    The issues it seems to fail to address are:
    -lack of much railroad network in the UP
    -safety issues for train transport of oil and gas (whether in the UP or elsewhere)
    -limited capacity available in other pipelines that would connect Superior with Sarnia.

    One other issue to consider – while Canada has solid transcontinental railroad lines, it has very little in the way of an E-W highway. The famous Trans-Canada Highway is a narrow two-lane road in most of Northern Ontario, barely adequate for personal vehicles and uncomfortably small for trucks. It is nothing like US Interstates or the equivalent freeways in Toronto and other major Canadian cities. Canada’s only options for moving this oil are:
    -pipeline routes through the US
    -train cars (and the Lac Megantic disaster was noted)
    -lake shipping using vessels that aren’t currently on the lakes

    Putting oil tankers on Lake Superior and Lake Huron, which are the most dangerous of the Great Lakes, would be vastly more dangerous than the pipeline.

    Only a pipeline is realistically viable. If Line 5 gets NIMBY’d out of here, the oil will go through Wisconsin and Illinois instead. If that won’t work, Canada can either ship it west for export to Asia, or give up on its decades of investment in Alberta tar sands and other heavy oil. Trying to ship it west will face similar NIMBY efforts from Canadians in BC, based on recent past attempts to expand ports and ship coal from there.

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