Protecting the Great Lakes from a Catastrophic Oil Spill
The case against Line 5, the dual 64-year-old petroleum pipelines running under Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, has deepened. The question now is whether government officials will do anything about it and end the risk of a catastrophic oil spill affecting a large area of the Great Lakes.
A report that surfaced in June revealed that Enbridge, the pipeline owner and operator, has for years routinely violated a legal agreement to properly anchor Line 5 against the swift currents in the Straits. The company tolerated lengthy unsupported spans in violation of the 1953 easement agreement through which the state of Michigan granted Enbridge conditional occupancy of the lakebed.
“Enbridge’s willful neglect to properly support Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac is a game changer,” says Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW, a Traverse City-based Great Lakes water law and policy center. She said the state now must apply the law, stop Line 5’s oil flow and hold public hearings as it considers the Canadian company’s application to continue to use the decaying steel infrastructure.
Ed Timm, Ph.D., an engineer advising FLOW, notes it is likely that damage to the pipe has already occurred because unsupported spans were not detected and repaired in a timely way by Enbridge. A University of Michigan study found that more than 700 miles of shoreline in Lakes Michigan and Huron and on their islands are potentially vulnerable to damage from an oil release in the Straits.
On June 29, the state’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board released an analysis of alternatives to Line 5 that fails to examine existing pipeline infrastructure and that is biased toward allowing Line 5 to continue to operate through new oil pipelines and further expand its operations says Kirkwood.
Enbridge was responsible for the nation’s largest-ever inland oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed in 2010. There have been at least 29 spills from Line 5 releasing more than 1 million gallons of oil and gas into the environment.
Public comments on the study of alternatives to the pipeline can be made at MIPetroleumPipelines.com/document/alternatives-analysis-straits-pipeline by Aug. 4. For more information, visit FlowForWater.org/Line-5. Additional information is also available at the Oil and Water Don’t Mix website, OilAndWaterDontMix.org/comment_to_shutdown.