NEW YORK: In remote northern Michigan, a propane shortage in early 2014 caused prices to nearly double, squeezing about half of the families there who rely on the fossil fuel to heat their homes.
Glenda Bowler remembers her son fitting a wood stove at his restaurant as an alternative to propane, which reaches Michigan’s Upper Peninsula via a 645-mile pipeline.
“Everybody’s thermostats got turned down, and you turned to supplemental, like wood or electric to help. I’m old, so I can’t go cut wood,” the 68-year-old said.
Now the future of the Enbridge Inc. owned line supplying the region is under threat, as climate activists widen their campaign to cut US fossil fuel dependency from new pipelines to the refurbishment or expansion of older ones.
“To speed up the extraction of what remains is an insane strategy because we need to have something that replaces that energy source in the future and we don’t have it as long as people are continuing to rely on oil,” Anne Woiwode, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter, said.
But as authorities worldwide face the challenge of a smooth transition to a lower-carbon future, energy firms are wrestling with investment decisions to keep their businesses running and prevent supply disruptions.
Enbridge had to temporarily close its Line 5 this summer after damage was discovered, boosting calls for the 67-year-old line carrying crude oil, propane and liquid fuels to Canada through the sensitive Straits of Mackinac, to be shut down.
Nearly half the oil and gas pipeline miles that crisscross the US are at least 50 years old. And even though the world’s largest fuel consumer is starting to rely more on renewables, fossil fuels still provide almost all of its road fuel and natural gas accounts for about 40 percent of electricity generation.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this month revoked a decades-old easement allowing the Enbridge line to operate, saying that its location and age means it poses a major risk and vowing to shut it after a transition period.
Roughly 43 percent of pipeline miles for hazardous liquids, which includes crude oil, were installed pre-1970, while 55 percent of gas transmission pipeline miles were installed before 1970, according to the US Department of Transportation.
Climate activists, Native tribes, and local opponents have waged years-long battles to prevent construction of pipelines with some, like Keystone XL, a 830,000-barrel-per-day crude expansion project, still in limbo after more than a decade.
Although the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, once the largest gas line under construction, was canceled this year, the Dakota Access LLC oil pipe and other large crude pipelines from Texas have been completed in recent years.
If existing pipelines are shut, suppliers could be forced to transport fuel and gas to consumers by rail or road.
Pipelines moved 4.4 billion barrels of foreign and domestic crude oil to refineries in 2019, while rail cars accounted for just 123.6 million barrels, or 3 percent of pipeline volumes, and trucking was about 2.4 percent of pipeline volume, US Energy Information Administration data showed.