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Two pipeline nightmare scenarios impact fuel availability, business opportunities

In an apparently coincidental combination of events, pipelines used to deliver fuel in both Canada and the United States are faced with tremendously disruptive scenarios this week.

In Canada, Enbridge is fighting an order by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the Line 5 pipeline which delivers about 50 per cent of the oil and LNG (liquid natural gas) used by Ontario and Quebec through the Straits of Mackinac, between Lakes Huron and Michigan. Enbridge has announced it intends to ignore Whitmer’s May 12th deadline, which she says will constitute “intentional trespass.” 

“The Michigan Propane Gas Association has estimated that in Michigan alone, 45,000 more trucks or 15,000 more railcars would be needed to replace Line 5 shipments,” reports Bill Rawlusyk of IHS Market.

“The operator is working on a contiency plan….it will be messy, it will take months to put into place, it will involve thousands of 18-wheelers jamming up the 401 and jamming up the border, it will be messy, it will be polluting and it will be expensive. It will not be as safe. That’s abundantly clear,” Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Reagan told CTV on May 11, having filed an Amicus Brief in US Federal Court in defense of Line 5.

Line 5 is described on Enbridge’s website: “As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, Line 5 diverges into two, 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines. This is why people sometimes call the pipeline system the “dual” or “twin” pipelines. They start underground onshore, taper deep underwater and cross the Straits for 4.5 miles.

“Line 5 has operated without incident at the Straits of Mackinac for more than 65 years…Line 5 supplies 65% of propane demand in the Upper Peninsula, and 55% of Michigan’s statewide propane needs. Overall, Line 5 transports up to 540,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids (NGLs), which are refined into propane.”

Meanwhile in the United States, the Colonial Pipeline company had its compter systems hacked which has disrupted suppy. Colonial notes on its website:

“On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline Company learned it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack. We have since determined that this incident involves ransomware. In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems. Upon learning of the issue, a leading, third-party cybersecurity firm was engaged, and they have launched an investigation into the nature and scope of this incident, which is ongoing.”

Due to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, some gas and diesel stations in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are experiencing intermittent diesel and gasoline outages.

Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Reagan tweeted out this image of the Amicus Brief filed to defend the Line 5 pipeline. Canada waited until mere hours before the May 12 deadline to take a position on the matter.