If pipeline companies were honest about what they are transmitting around North America, there would be fewer problems with environmentalists. It would also help if reporters were more accurate and editors more diligent There are differences between refined oil products such as the different grades of gasoline and crude oil. There are also serious concerns about pipelines carrying diluted bitumen to refineries for processing.
In the current dispute between governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Enbridge over Line 5, it makes considerable difference. Whitmer’s experience with a pipeline spill is based on the ten-year old spill of an Enbridge pipe that polluted a major tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan. That spill cost more than a billion dollars, resulted in huge fines for the company and never could be completely cleaned up. That was a spill of diluted bitumen.
A spill from Enbridge’s Line 5 where it crosses the shallow lake bed of Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac—from which the water flows into Lake Huron and through the Great Lakes and to the Atlantic Ocean—could be catastrophic if it is diluted bitumen.
The difference is that crude or refined oil products float and can be trapped and cleaned up. Diluted bitumen floats for a while until the diluent is washed away and the heavier bitumen sinks to the bottom. This can deny close to 40 million Americans and Canadians their source of water for home use, for farm animals, for industrial use, for leisure activities and for commercial fisheries. There is no doubt that Governor Whitmer has made a case.
And the battle has been engaged in the halls of both Ottawa and Washington. President Joe Biden has already put an end to the Keystone XL pipeline over the objections of Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Closure of Line 5 would have serious impacts on the Canadian economy as well as challenge the American self-sufficiency in oil.
But it is important to recognize that the main fight is over the diluted bitumen, not the refined products. If citizens understood the difference, there is a work-around that could mitigate the economic problems. Enbridge can complete its tunnel solution at Mackinac in about three years, In the meantime, we should tell the whole story so that people can understand the concern.
Copyright 2021 © Peter Lowry
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