Line 3 and Line 5 information just keeps coming.
When it comes to Line 3, reports are plentiful but misleading. Last month, as Enbridge won a Minnesota court of appeals ruling that upheld the permit for the Line 3 replacement project, the 670,000-barrels-per-day capacity was described as including 400,000 BPD of excess (or additional) pipeline capacity.
Not so according to Marilyn Gladu, a professional engineer who worked for Dow Chemical for 21 years and a former Director of Engineering at Suncor who is now the MP for Sarnia-Lambton. Gladu points out the project is restoring the original capacity of Line 3 that was voluntarily reduced in 2008 as the company began formulating a replacement plan for the aging line.
“ I am pleased that President Biden recognized the value of Line 3 and stood up for it because I think that it is an acknowledgment that we can have the essential energies we need. The target is still Net-Zero by 2050, for which Enbridge has got a comprehensive plan and I know that is large on President Biden’s agenda. I think it’s important to recognize that the replacement is just restoring locked capacity- the original capacity was 670,000-barrels-per-day. As a result of some of the integrity issues, they had to reduce the amount of oil that they could send down it. So, changing the route slightly and putting in a brand-new part of the pipeline will address the integrity issue so it will be better for the environment and they can return to their original delivery capacity of 670,000 barrels.”
The most studied pipeline project in Minnesota history
Media reports continue to imply that the Line 3 replacement will add new oil supply. This messaging is amplified by environmental groups who are intent on reducing pipeline capacity at all costs with little regard for demand or the need to rebuild and reinforce aging pipeline infrastructure. Activists and those who are opposed to pipelines will continue to use every tactic in every court opportunity to come against new pipelines and shut down existing lines according to Gladu. Analysts are already reporting that the Line 3 decision will certainly be challenged in the U.S Supreme Court despite the fact that one of the judges on the decision acknowledged that there had been “rigorous public debate” around the permitting for the Line 3 replacement. According to the Enbridge website – “More than 20 federal, state and local permits and approvals were needed prior to construction” calling Line 3 the “most studied pipeline project in Minnesota history.” Marilyn Gladu sees the lengthy project review as positive:
“After 6 years of review and engagement, I think it speaks to the fact that you can listen to all of the different voices and together come with a solution that will be better for the environment and better for all. There is an economic benefit. WCS pricing creates a huge savings for the US. I think it’s worth pointing out you’re not changing the footprint. The same amount of energy is being consumed in the US. It’s just being done through Line 3 in a cheaper and more environmentally sound manner.”
Line 3 vs Line 5
Line 5 is in a very similar situation to Line 3 according to Gladu. With Line 3, WCSB crude oil is transported to U.S. refineries and then turned into products much the same as Line 5 delivers crude and propane to refineries in the U.S. and Canada- heating homes, providing propane for farmers to dry their grains, heat their barns and operations. They’re both providing gasoline for people’s cars and jet fuel for airports. Her update on Line 5 is that we are still waiting for the court decision of whether the matter will be heard federally or at the state level. She reports that while waiting, Canada has escalated its rhetoric to say that Line 5 is “not negotiable” and called on President Biden to intervene in the matter.
She reports that there have been lobbying efforts at all levels of government including between the Prime Minister and President Biden because Ottawa doesn’t want the matter to come to a dispute of the 1977 treaty. We saw that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tried to argue that the 1977 Agreement Concerning Transit Pipelines doesn’t apply. The treaty addresses the flow of product in pipelines between the two countries- and clearly, Line 5 has oil flowing in it that goes between the two countries. Gladu thinks the Attorney General’s attempt will fail and that the courts will decide to hear the matter federally because multiple states are impacted.
The other fly in the ointment
However, Gladu advises…“The other fly in the ointment is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided they want to do a full environmental review of the tunnel project. The tunnel project was intended to encase Line 5 in a tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac to take a safe pipeline and virtually eliminate any risk of damage to the environment. That schedule was to be completed by 2024 but with the fulsome environmental impact study that the Army Corps is suggesting, that will delay the project. Environmental assessments can drag on. I believe the tunnel project is the ultimate right answer that would appease those with concerns from all sides but delaying it is not a good thing.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental review is one of the four permits that are needed to approve for the tunnel project- two of them have been granted. The outstanding two are the ones from the U.S. Army Corps and a permit from the Michigan Public Service Commission. So Line 5 is still in a bit of limbo. But there are many pipelines of similar age operating in the U.S. currently throughout the world. Gladu points out that there are thousands of kilometres of pipelines underneath the oceans, underneath various lakes around the world. She notes that pipelines are a much more commonly used technology than most people know and have proven to be very safe. So in addition to Line 5 for example, there are 700 pipelines that run between Sarnia-Lambton and Michigan-Port Huron. Some of them are older than Line 5. There is not necessarily more risk in one area than another. Gladu advises that in the case of a 95-year-old pipeline section that runs under the St. Clair river, there was a need to switch to the transport of a different fossil fuel. Because of the age of the pipeline and a desire to improve its integrity they successfully put a sleeve on the line.
Safe transportation of future fuels
The conversation turned to the U.S. intentions to develop hydrogen as a fuel and about transporting hydrogen safely. Isn’t that going to be a continual headache for a country like the U.S that is so bullish on hydrogen and at the same time so pressured by environmentalists?
“What people are unaware of is the amount of hydrogen that’s already flowing in pipelines all over the place. That’s the issue. The public doesn’t understand what’s in place today. People will be quite worried when they hear that more hydrogen is being put in the pipeline because they will perceive that as a potential risk. But the reality is these things have been in place for decades and the technology and the controls on those lines are top-notch.”
In light of the disconnects in public perception and discourse, Gladu sees a need for messaging about pipelines safety and the environment. In the case of hydrogen, she reasons:
“ Hydrogen is part of the solution of getting to net-zero. I would argue that people have to be facing the question of how are you going to get H2 around. It is much safer to put hydrogen in a pipeline than it is for example to use multiple hydrogen trucks and hydrogen railcars.”
Asking the right questions
Gladu has a unique perspective of being an oil and gas industry professional located in central Canada- in Ontario. She sees the discussions that the industry needs to take on in the coming months as an immediate need to raise awareness about pipelines.
“ I receive a lot of calls at my office, especially from young people who want to shut line 5 down for example. I’ll ask them – do you drive a car? and I say so where do you think your gasoline comes from? It comes from Line 5. Do you have a barbecue at your house – with a propane tank? The propane comes from Line 5. Do you ever take a trip go to the Caribbean or travel away to Florida? Where do you think the jet fuel comes from? Line 5. Are you going to stop doing all those activities and if not- where do you think the fuel is going to come from without Line 5? It’s going to come in lake barges and trucks and in rail cars that have more emissions. That’s not better for the planet. At the end of the day, we’re not aware of all these things.”
When reviewing traditional media reports, one begins to wonder if it is possible to raise those discussions and to maintain them in the public eye?
Gladu is optimistic that dialogue can be achieved … “By illuminating to the side that perhaps wasn’t aware- how extensive the concerns about pipelines and energy supply/demand are. And on the other hand, by providing an opportunity to communicate the fact that we all, as a society, depend on these resources.”
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry