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Line 5 pipeline has overstayed its welcome

• Jul 25, 2018 at 5:00 PM

Never say never.

It's about time we learn to stop downplaying risks related to the Line 5 oil pipeline where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac and begin moving forward with what now should be the obvious move to eliminate the threat.

If the past several years of questions about the condition of the twin 65-year-old pipes that cross the lakebed between the upper and lower peninsulas wasn't enough, the latest risk assessment should do the job.

In fact, that report should be the final coffin nail needed to convince any thoughtful politician, business owner, homeowner, vacationer or bureaucrat that the pair of lines that flow up to 23 million gallons of oil each day have overstayed their welcome. That 398-page report was authored by Michigan Technological University professor Guy Meadows for the pipeline's owner, Enbridge Energy and was released to state regulators Monday as part of an agreement between the state and the company.

And the assessment wasn't pretty.

In fact, it indicated the potential worst-case-scenario spill from the line is far worse than we have been led to believe. Meadows estimated a catastrophic rupture of both lines and a failure of the remote shutoff valves at either side of the crossing could cause more than 2.4 million gallons of oil to flow into the lake before the company could manually close the valves. That's more than double the amount of oil the company spilled from its Line 6b into the Kalamazoo River watershed about eight years ago.

Company officials contend such a failure on Line 5 is exceedingly unlikely, and they may be right in the near term. The key word in the previous sentence is "may.” We don't think it's worth gambling on the word "may.” The risks are simply too great.

But those same officials previously said the chances a ship passing through the straits dropping its anchor and damaging the twin spans is unlikely. That was before news broke earlier this year that a boat had dropped its anchor, severed a pair of unused electric transmission cables and damaged Line 5 in the process.

The risk report also outlined a number of less severe leak scenarios; each would entail thousands of gallons of oil flowing into the Great Lakes. Company officials and just about every Michigander agree any amount of oil leaking into our freshwater lakes would be unacceptable.

So there comes the greater question: Why is the fate of Line 5 even up for debate?

Nothing lasts forever, especially infrastructure exposed to Mother Nature in Michigan. So why, if we all agree even a drop of oil loosed into our lakes would be too much, are we allowing a ticking time bomb to continue through pumping millions of gallons each day?

We certainly don't need more studies to tell us the risks are grave and the potential for catastrophe looms.

State and company officials soon will consider a number of options for alternatives to the crossing, some that would entail a new pipeline crossing at the Straits. Those options likely will cause prolonged debate and delay action on Line 5, an unnecessary blurring of what should be two separate issues.

Line 5 has overstayed its welcome and its time to set a concrete date when the last drop of oil will flow through it. Because every day that passes is another 24 hours tempting a fate none of us want to face.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE (AP)

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