Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently released a new proposal to ensure Michigan’s access to propane in anticipation of shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, a leading carrier of natural gas liquids that are refined into propane and used to heat homes across Michigan. The Governor’s new plan calls for more state investment in rail and propane storage infrastructure and pledges to find new suppliers while working with the industry to deal with potential shortages.
What’s not mentioned in the plan is the increased risk to the environment when using rail to transport natural gas vs. pipelines. Pipelines are proven to be safer, more environmentally-conscious, and more efficient than transporting gas via rail or truck. The alternative of transporting oil and gas by rail presents unnecessary risk, requiring hundreds of thousands of barrels be delivered across busy interstate roadways and waterways, potentially leading to a disastrous spill. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation has shown that pipelines result in far fewer incidents and personal injuries compared to road and rail.
In addition, a 2017 Carnegie Mellon study found that air pollution and greenhouse gas costs are substantially larger for transport by rail when compared to pipeline. The study specifically points to the harm posed by ground-level emissions from locomotives, as well as railroad infrastructure moving goods through dense population centers. The study notes emissions from trains moving through cities are likely to contact many more people than those emitted at rural power plants for pipeline pumping stations.
Another downside to shutting off pipelines is the increased cost to Michigan’s energy consumers. It was recently reported that residents in Michigan are struggling to pay winter heating bills after February’s cold spell. If Enbridge’s Line 5 is canceled, these utility bills have the potential to soar even higher, making it even more difficult for families to make ends meet.
Governor Whitmer and other elected officials should embrace practical positions that advance our nation’s energy security. The United States has the potential to rebound even stronger than before the pandemic, but only if we continue to invest in our communities and ensure affordable energy for Michiganders through safe infrastructure.