When a ruptured pipeline spilled 20,000 barrels of oil into a North Dakota wheat field last month, a state health official said it was “the best place it could’ve occurred” — far from population centers and water supplies.
But what if a similar spill occurs in the worst place?
As pipeline concerns mount, focus returns to the Great Lakes
In the cold, fast-flowing depths of the Straits of Mackinac run pipelines which the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says could pose a dire threat to the Great Lakes and the beloved tourist culture of nearby Mackinac Island.
And while Enbridge, which operates the pipelines, says it’s taking rigorous measures to prevent such a disaster, advocates and pipeline experts say a lack of transparency coupled with the company’s checkered safety record leave them unconvinced. Enbridge is the same company whose pipeline in Marshall, Michigan spilled more than 23,000 barrels of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 – the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The ongoing cleanup of that spill, along with the recent North Dakota incident, have elevated worries that current regulations and industry safeguards aren’t strong enough to prevent another disaster. The NWF video highlights what the group describes as “broken supports” around the pipeline – pieces of metal looking like big broken staples, and in NWF’s view, indicating evidence of corrosion that could also affect the pipeline itself.
The video also tracks lengths of “unsupported pipeline” – where the pipeline is suspended above the lake floor and could be under greater stress from the current, the weight of encrusted debris or the impact of dropping boat anchors or other foreign objects.
Given the swift and fluctuating currents of the stretch separating Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas not far from the Canadian border, the report says:
A large oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac could potentially spread across vast areas of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. A far-reaching oil slick that spread into Lake Huron could also affect Georgian Bay, one of the most vibrant freshwater ecosystems on the planet. “The wind would literally change direction every few minutes,” said Wallace, meaning in the case of a spill, “the weather would hinder any kind of recovery effort. Especially in winter, they might not even get out there.”
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