Tag: Propane

Living Along Enbridge Line 5 in Michigan


If you live anywhere along the route of Enbridge’s Line 5 crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) pipeline, which travels 547 miles across the Upper Peninsula, the Straits of Mackinac, and down through Lower Michigan, you should be asking state and local government officials and emergency responders a lot of questions. You should know whether your family’s safety is at risk. Public focus is on the environmental and economic impact of a pipeline failure and crude oil release at the Straits of Mackinac, and now, and an agreement for a possible oil pipeline tunnel in 10 years.[1]  This “tunnel vision” does not solve the human safety and property damage impacts along the other 539 miles of pipeline route, not only from a crude oil release, but also from the potential for a huge fireball resulting from an NGLs release.

The integrity of the Line 5 pipeline outside of the Straits is known to be questionable, as evidenced by at least 29 documented spills totaling 1.1 million gallons of oil, numerous repairs, and use of a lower standard of materials and construction for the single 30” pipeline compared to the twin 20” pipelines under the Straits.[2]

                  photo: Bill Latka

Line 5 also transports large quantities of NGLs, a mixture of propane and butane (and perhaps ethane), which is a liquid under the pressure of Line 5’s operation and a gas when released. The NGLs composition in Line 5 as reported by Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems, Inc., the consultant hired by the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board (MPSAB) is largely propane.[3]  Propane is commonly used for home and commercial heating and chemical production, and is purchased everywhere for home barbecues. If Line 5 fails when it is carrying NGLs (which is 20% to 30% of the time), the released NGLs could quickly flash into a gas, ignite, and create a large fire. If ignition is delayed several minutes, a vapor cloud explosion and huge fireball could occur. The public safety and property damage impacts of a Line 5 NGLs release anywhere along its 547-mile length in Michigan are not being questioned vigorously enoughWhat would be the impact of a NGLs release, fire, and/or vapor cloud explosion?

The Dynamic Risk study included several NGLs underwater release scenarios at the Straits to determine if the resultant fireball would impact the Mackinac Bridge and people in vehicles on the Bridge. Modeling showed that a full-bore 20” pipeline failure at the bottom of the Straits could create a flame envelope of just under one mile, but not touch the Bridge. But what if you are living or traveling near Line 5 upstream or downstream of a new Straits tunnel? Line 5, along its 547-mile length in Michigan:

  • Travels through several populated areas along its route: Ironwood, Manistique, Engadine, Naubinway, St. Ignace, Mackinac City, Indian River, West Branch, Linwood, Bay City, Vassar, and Marysville, Michigan.
  • Crosses nearly 400 streams, wetlands, or other water bodies in Michigan, runs near many inland lakes, endangering fishing, wildlife, private property, businesses, riparian owners, and the public. Studies conducted for the state designate 74 water-crossing locations as “prioritized,” indicating sensitive areas vulnerable to a spill and including endangered species habitat and sites near drinking-water intake pipes. Some of the waterways include the renowned AuSable, Sturgeon, Manistique, and Rapid rivers, and the Upper Peninsula’s Lake Gogebic.
  • Is 65 years old, primarily designed to carry crude oil, but also NGLs, which as a gas or vapor cloud are highly flammable and explosive.
  • Is 30” in diameter outside the Straits, thinner, longitudinally welded, and can fail like Enbridge Line 6B did in 2010 in the Kalamazoo River watershed, which resulted in the largest inland heavy crude oil spill in U.S. history.
  • Has leaked 29 times upstream and downstream of the Straits, and has been dug up, inspected, and repaired due to detected “anomalies.” In May 2018, Enbridge was fined $ 1.8 million for failing to meet mandated inspection requirements imposed by a consent decree from the Line 6B disaster.

The nearly one-mile flame envelope for an NGLs release at the Straits was determined using a proprietary computer model that is widely used by industry for safety and risk management studies. Could a much larger fireball occur for a pipeline failure outside of the Straits?  The answer clearly is: Yes. 

An NGL release could be much larger because it would not necessarily be in deep water experiencing hydrostatic pressure resistance. NGL pipeline pressure at other locations could also be higher as a leak at the Straits would be on the low-pressure side of the Mackinac City pumping station. The distance between shutoff valves outside the Straits is also greater, which would result in larger release quantities and fireballs.

By Rick Kane, FLOW Board Member and Advisor

Citizens along the entire route of Line 5 should not be lulled into thinking that the risk is only at the Straits and that it will be solved with “tunnel vision.” What is the risk to your family and neighborhood from NGLs and vapor cloud explosion? Do you know where Line 5 is? Do local authorities and emergency responders have disaster scenario information and response plans? This information should be available to you and not out of sight due to “tunnel vision.”

Importantly, there are alternatives to the continued operation of Line 5, which is not vital to Michigan or U.S. interests, as documented in FLOW’s December 2015 report. Line 5 enables the export of Canadian oil, with Michigan being the shortcut and taking all of the risks. Don’t be lulled by “tunnel vision.”


Rick is the former Director of Security, Environment, Transportation Safety and Emergency Services for Rhodia, North America.  He is certified in environmental, hazardous materials, and security management, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Dallas.


[1]  Detroit News Lansing Bureau, “Line 5 tunnel talks set to gain steam”, Published 11:55 p.m. ET, June 4, 2018 | Updated 12:00 a.m. ET June 5, 2018, http://www.detroitnews.com/staff/10046778/jonathan-oosting/

[2] FLOW (For Love of Water) Public Comments on the Joint Application of Enbridge Energy to Occupy Great Lakes Bottomlands for Anchoring Support Structures and Improvements for Line 5 Pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan [HNC- AR90-WAHM0], May 11, 2018,  http://flowforwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/FINAL-FLOW-public-comments-on-Anchor-Permit-05-11-18.pdf 

[3] Dynamic Risk Assessments Systems, Inc., Alternative Analysis for the Straits Pipeline Final Report, October 26, 2017, https://mipetroleumpipelines.com


FLOW Releases New Fact Sheets Regarding Line 5

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                               February 6, 2017

Contact:  Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director                                        Email: Liz@FLOWforWater.org

FLOW (For Love of Water)                                             Office: (231) 944-1568, Cell: (570) 872-4956

 

Research Identifies Viable Options to Enbridge’s Aging “Line 5” for U.P.’s Propane Supply and Michigan, Midwest Demand for Oil

Developing and Implementing Alternatives to Aging Pipelines in the Mackinac Straits is Key to Preventing Great Lakes Oil Spill Disaster

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Just one to two propane rail cars or a few tanker trucks a day could replace the Line 5 pipeline’s Upper Peninsula propane capacity without risking energy security in the U.P. or a catastrophic Great Lakes oil spill, according to experts for FLOW, a water law and policy center dedicated to upholding the public’s rights to use and benefit from the Great Lakes.

FLOW’s latest research shows that Line 5 supplies only about one-third to one-half of the Upper Peninsula’s propane, considerably less than the 65-85 percent that pipeline-owner Enbridge asserts, based on FLOW’s estimates using publicly available data. And importantly, FLOW’s estimate represents a relatively small quantity of propane to transport, as the Upper Peninsula is sparsely populated and fewer than 1-in-5 U.P. residents lives in housing heated by propane. (Click here to see the new FLOW fact sheet on Line 5 and U.P. propane supply option.)

Enbridge’s inflated propane claims have needlessly fostered concern among local residents and state lawmakers that shutting down the aging pipeline to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Mackinac Straits would result in freezing Upper Peninsula residents in their homes.

“It’s clearer than ever that Line 5 is not vital to Michigan’s energy security and, in fact, threatens ourPure Michigan economy and the drinking water supply to communities from Mackinac Island to metropolitan Detroit,” said Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and FLOW’s executive director. “What’s needed now is a little ingenuity and a willingness to look for answers beyond the status quo with a steel pipeline transporting oil and liquid natural gas that was installed underwater in 1953.”

FLOW’s latest findings serve as an update to FLOW’s December 2015 expert report that concluded that decommissioning the twin pipelines in the Mackinac Straits to prevent a disastrous oil spill would not disrupt Michigan’s or the Midwest’s crude oil and propane supply, contrary to Enbridge assertions.

FLOW’s research is meant to inform deliberations by a state advisory board that meets next on March 13 in Lansing. The State of Michigan in partnership with the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board is overseeing the completion of two independent studies funded by Enbridge: one on the financial risk to communities and the Pure Michigan economy of a Line 5 oil spill in the Mackinac Straits and the other on alternatives to the aging pipeline that could avoid such a disaster. These two studies are expected by mid-2017.

FLOW supports decommissioning Line 5 to protect the Great Lakes, tribal fishing rights, and citizens’ public trust rights to navigate, boat, drink, fish, swim, and benefit from these precious waters. The State of Michigan must act with urgency to identify a viable plan for meeting Michigan’s energy needs without threatening the Great Lakes or public-owned bottomlands, which the Enbridge pipelines occupy under a 1953 easement with the state.

FLOW’s December 2015 research determined that available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American pipeline system run not only by Canadian-based Enbridge, but also by competitors supplying the same refineries in Detroit, Toledo, and Sarnia, Ontario.

Furthermore, at least 90 percent of the 540,000 barrels per day of oil and liquid natural gases moved through Line 5 end up in Canadian refineries, undermining claims that the pipeline is an important source of crude for the Marathon refinery in Detroit. (Click here to see the new FLOW fact sheet on alternatives to Line 5.)

“Our work to date has led to the conclusion that Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac can be shut down, without resorting to additional oil trains, tank trucks, or lake tankers to serve regional refineries, as Enbridge would have you believe,” said Gary Street, a retired chemical engineer and former director of engineering at Dow Environmental – AWD Technologies. “In addition, straightforward steps can be taken to assure customers in the Upper Peninsula of an on-going supply of propane, which is offloaded from Line 5 in Rapid River near Escanaba before ever reaching the segment that would be decommissioned in the Mackinac Straits.”

For more information:

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