A Great Lakes pipeline dispute points to a broader energy dilemma
Posted by admin on 17th October 2018
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A deal involving an aging oil pipeline in Michigan reflects the complex decisions communities across the country need to make to balance the needs for energy and safety with efforts to deal with climate change.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge, a Canadian company, have reached an agreement over a leak-prone pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the 4-mile-long waterway that divides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Rather than shut the 65-year-old pipeline down altogether, as environmentalists are demanding, or conduct routine maintenance, as Enbridge desired, Snyder is requiring Enbridge to replace the pipeline at an estimated cost of up to US$500 billion without a deadline.

While the lakes, beaches and livelihoods vulnerable to harm from a potential spill are perhaps unique to Michigan, the question of what to do about a host of aging pipelines across the U.S. is not. Nearly half of the nation’s pipelines currently operating were built before 1960.

Amid rising oil and gas production, there are hard compromises to make between ensuring an adequate energy supply, protecting public safety, and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels – a key contributor to climate change. But my research suggests that there may be a straightforward way for both decision-makers and the public to make these choices.

Millions of miles

Approximately 3 million miles of pipelines move crude oil, natural gas and other hazardous liquids across the U.S. Most crude oil pipelines traversing the center of the country transport oil from western Canada and North Dakota southward to refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

Much of this system dates back to the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, roughly half of the crude oil pipelines operating today are at least 50 years old.

More of the natural gas pipelines that span the county are concentrated around the Marcellus Shale formation, in eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania. And 60 percent of the 319,000 miles of pipelines currently transporting natural gas were installed before 1970.

A recent Department of Energy report suggested that replacing just the cast-iron pipelines, which are the oldest and riskiest variety, would cost approximately $270 billion.

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