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Pipelines best way to move crude, except 5B

• Jun 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Amid the ongoing clamor to close Enbridge's 5B oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the Great Lakes Commission has produced some sobering crude oil arithmetic. The commission is a joint United States-Canada body charged with protecting the Great Lakes.

It recently completed a series of reports on the state of oil transport infrastructure in the Great Lakes region and its economic and environmental impacts.

It should come as no surprise that, in one way or another, much of North America's crude oil passes through the Great Lakes region. We like to say that all roads end in Port Huron. They pass through Port Huron — and that includes pipelines — connecting the four corners of the continent.

That controversial Straits of Mackinac pipeline delivers Canadian crude to Sarnia refineries via Marysville and the St. Clair River.

Pipelines move more than 90 percent of petroleum products within and across the region. Railroads carry most of the rest, and ships transport a small share. Pipelines are popular because they are the cheapest to operate. Railroads are the most flexible option, commission researchers say, and are the most expensive.

The cost is not measured only in dollars. Trains and tank cars are the transport method most likely to be involved in an incident that kills or injures someone. Pipelines have leaks, but they don't collide with minivans at unguarded country intersections and they don’t derail in the middle of the night.

From 2007 to 2015, rail transport of crude oil, the commission says, resulted in about $2.5 billion in environmental and social costs, "mainly because of higher injury-related and loss-of-lives-related costs." At the same time, pipeline transport generated about $1.3 billion in environmental and social costs — and that includes about half a billion dollars for Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill alone.

Remember, though, that pipelines move 10 times as much crude as trains — at half the environmental and social cost of rail.

The 60-year-old and clearly deteriorating lines at the Straits should be shut down. It needs be replaced with a safer alternative — which means a different pipeline, not rail or ship.

Enbridge needs to replace that line with new pipe and a saner route that doesn't pass beneath the Great Lakes.

TIMES HERALD/PORT HURON (AP)

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