With memories still fresh of propane shortages suffered during a 2019 railway strike, members of the Lambton County Federation of Agriculture added their voices to those calling on governments in Canada to work to keep Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline operating.
The federation, which has more than 1,900 members in Lambton, voted at its recent annual meeting to call on governments and agricultural organizations to work with the new U.S. administration to keep the pipeline carrying western oil and gas operating through Michigan.
The state’s governor has revoked the easement allowing the pipeline to run along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, but Enbridge has challenged the order and says it will continue operating the pipeline that plays an important role supplying propane to both Michigan and Ontario. The company is also seeking permits and approvals to replace the crossing with a tunnel.
The pipeline enters Ontario near Sarnia after crossing Michigan.
Propane shortages during the CN strike are “fresh in the memories” of farmers, said federation president Gary Martin. “I started thinking, ‘Wait a minute, if propane gets shut off all together it’s going to be a whole lot worse.’”
Plains Midstream Canada says Line 5 supplies all of the feedstock for its plant on Plank Road in Sarnia, which produces about 1,200-million gallons of propane and butane annually, with approximately 200-million gallons shipped to Michigan.
The company warned in a letter to the Michigan governor that closing the pipeline would lead to the shutting down of the plant, as well as Plains Midstream facilities serving Michigan.
Martin said the Sarnia plant is the main source of propane used in Ontario and Quebec.
“It’s going to be a dire circumstance if propane gets turned off,” he said.
Farmers using propane to heat homes, barns and commercial greenhouses, as well as to dry grain and power irrigation systems, are often in areas without natural gas lines.
Even if alternative supplies of propane are found, closing Line 5 could mean the fuel will be “so expensive we wouldn’t be able to use it on the farms economically,” Martin said.
If Line 5 shuts down, as the Michigan governor has ordered, rail and truck transportation of propane would “increase dramatically, not only in the U.S. but also in Canada and with no expectation that the current volumes achieved by pipeline transportation would be reached in the immediate term,” Nathalie St.-Pierre, president of the Canadian Propane Association, said in an email.
Finding the “thousands” of additional truck drivers needed would be challenging and putting that many additional diesel-powered vehicles on the road wouldn’t make environmental sense, she added.
“The closure of Line 5 would negatively impact refineries in Ontario and Quebec and the propane market through to Atlantic Canada, resulting in thousands of direct and indirect jobs being affected in Sarnia and throughout eastern Canada,” St.-Pierre said.
Ontario’s energy minister has said Line 5 is a “key artery” supplying the province with oil and warned of the economic damage that would result if it’s turned off.
“This shutdown will put over 4,900 jobs at risk, and jeopardize Ontario and Michigan’s energy supply that we rely on daily,” Greg Rickford, Ontario’s minister of energy, northern development and mines, said in a statement.
“Ontario’s four refineries ensure that Ontario, Quebec, Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region are supplied with essential products like home heating fuels, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel,” he said.
The Sarnia area is home to three of Ontario’s refineries, as well as several chemical plants, and local politicians and labour leaders have warned of the potential loss of jobs if Line 5 is shut down.
Local 663 of the plumbers and pipefitters union have initiated an online petition asking Canada’s prime minister to appeal to the new U.S. president to act to prevent Michigan from shutting down the pipeline. As of Saturday, it had more than 2,900 signatures.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley recently asked 44 Ontario cities and towns to support his call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act to save Line 5.
“The governor’s attempt to revoke and terminate the Line 5 easement is improper, unlawful and will negatively impact people, energy and economic security on both sides of the border,” stated a letter Bradley sent to the prime minister.