Dems, Native Groups Urge Biden to Shut Down Another Pipeline Despite Soaring Energy Prices
11:08 GMT 08.11.2021 (Updated: 11:24 GMT 08.11.2021)
© AP Photo / John FlesherFILE - In this October 2016, file photo, is an aboveground section of Enbridge's Line 5 at the Mackinaw City, Mich., pump station
© AP Photo / John Flesher
The United States began to backtrack on its recently restored status as a net exporter of oil products in early 2021, with the Biden administration scrapping a major transnational pipeline running from Canada, ordering a halt to the issuance of new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, and kicking off a review of existing permits.
The Biden administration has been urged not to proceed with reported plans to shut down Line 5, a major 1,038 km pipeline running through Wisconsin and Michigan to a refinery in Sarnia, Canada, amid a candid admission by his energy secretary that home heating costs are going to skyrocket in the coming months.
Informed sources told Politico on Sunday that the White House is debating what to do with the decades-old petroleum pipeline, amid back-and-forth lobbying from environmentalists and local indigenous groups concerned that the pipeline may spill, and Republican lawmakers, economists and the Canadian government fearing higher energy prices.
Line 5 stretches from western Wisconsin, through Michigan, to the arrow-shaped tip of southwestern Ontario, providing areas along the route with oil products and supplying energy to much of Ontario and Quebec.
The pipeline has garnered controversy amid fears that it is rife for spillage – including into the Great Lakes (it passes under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron). Enbridge – the pipeline’s operator, stresses that the underwater portion of the pipeline has never leaked, and that it is being monitored at all times. However, according to Sierra Club estimates, the pipeline has already leaked over a million gallons of oil since being commissioned in 1953, including a catastrophic spill in October 2011 which devastated the Kalamazoo River watershed. A recent study by the University of Michigan warned that a new major spill could affect up to 60 percent of Lake Huron’s waters, and 15 percent of Lack Michigan’s open waters.
Along with synthetic sweet and light sour crude oil and natural gas liquids, the pipeline also carries propane, a major heating source for the residents of Michigan.
Lawmakers penned a letter to Biden last Thursday, warning him that “as we enter the winter months and temperatures drop across the Midwest, the termination of Line 5 will undoubtedly further exacerbate shortages and price increases in home heating fuels like natural gas and propane at a time when Americans are already facing rapidly rising energy prices, steep home heating costs, global supply shortages, and skyrocketing gas prices.”
Despite the environmentalist rhetoric of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ottawa has also been urging Biden to keep the oil flowing, filing a formal request with a US court in May 2021 to do so. Canadian foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly spoke to her US counterpart Antony Blinken about the pipeline on Thursday, while Canadian minister of natural resources Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters Friday that he talked to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the matter, and informed her that Ottawa’s position on the pipeline was “non-negotiable”.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Biden ally, has joined forces with environmentalists and local Native trips to turn off the taps on Line 5. In their letter to Biden, also delivered last Thursday, twelve tribal groups accused the president of being silent on the matter, and warned that “given the strength and oscillation of the currents, over 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Huron shoreline would face serious contamination” in the event of a new spill.
Economists say Michigan prices at the pump could jump another several cents if the pipeline is shut down. Propane prices, already inching toward $2.50 a gallon, could jump 5-25 cents more if the fuel stops flowing. The average Michigan home burns roughly one gallon of propane per hour – meaning shutting the pipeline could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in additional fuel costs for many residents.
The national average of gas prices jumped by more than a $1.25 a gallon over the past year, reaching $3.42 a gallon, according to AAA estimates, up from $2.15 a gallon in October 2020. The Bank of America predicts crude prices could soar another 50 percent in the coming months.
28 October 2021, 07:00 GMT
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Granholm admitted that home heating prices would continue to soar, no matter what Biden decides on Pipeline 5. “Yeah, this is going to happen. It will be more expensive this year than last year. We are in a slightly beneficial position, certainly relative to Europe, because their chokehold of natural gas is very significant, they’re gonna pay five times higher, but we have the same problem in fuels that the supply chains have which is that the oil and gas companies are not flipping the switch as quickly as demand requires,” she explained.
Commenting on the cost of gasoline, Granholm insisted that the president was “all over the problem,” but there was only so much he could do. “Of course every president is frustrated because they can’t control the price of gasoline, because it’s a global market. He can call upon increased supply, which he has done, and OPEC is unfortunately controlling the agenda with respect to oil prices,” she said.
The energy secretary added that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, topped up last year by the Trump administration as oil prices tanked to unprecedented historic lows, is one of the options Biden now has to try to stem rising prices.
The Biden administration has pushed alternative sources of energy – such as wind and solar, as an alternative to hydrocarbons. However, some economists have claimed that an industrial and highly motorised nation like the US cannot rely on alternative fuels alone for its gargantuan energy needs, particularly given that even solar panels and wind turbines themselves require oil, gas, nuclear power and coal to produce.
17 October 2021, 22:52 GMT
The United States reversed a decades-long trend of being a net energy importer in 2019, when, thanks to eased regulations, and increased permits for exploration, drilling and exploitation of public lands, domestic producers were able to substantially ramp up production. Republicans have accused Biden of “undermining” US energy independence, pointing to the cancellation of the Canada-US Keystone XL Pipeline project, and cuts in new drilling leases on federal lands and waters. The administration has dismissed these criticisms, pointing to the immense environmental pollution generated by fracking, and continuing to push ‘green alternative’ energy sources.