Lansing State Journal: The Unknowns of a Great Lakes Oil Spill
Last November, I asked then-Commandant Paul Zukunft about the Coast Guard’s capability to clean up an oil spill in the Great Lakes at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Coast Guard preparedness. He did not sugarcoat his answer. The Coast Guard — whose motto is “Always Ready” — was not prepared to deal with a possible pipeline break in the world’s largest body of surface freshwater.
In Michigan, the Great Lakes are critical to our way of life. They provide drinking water for over 40 million people and are a key economic engine for our region, supporting more than 500,000 jobs in Michigan alone. From fishing and tourism to commercial shipping and agriculture, the Great Lakes are a key part of who we are. An oil spill from a pipeline break — like the 65 year-old Line 5 operating in the Straits of Mackinac — poses an enormous economic and environmental risk to the Great Lakes.
“I will go on the record to say that the Coast Guard is not ‘Semper Paratus’ for a major pipeline oil spill in the Great Lakes. More science needs to be done in that regard…”
-Former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft
Researchers at Michigan Tech recently found that a worst-case spill from Line 5 could contaminate hundreds of miles of shoreline, and cost Michigan nearly $2 billion in cleanup costs and lost economic productivity. Families in Michigan and the entire region whose livelihoods depend on the Great Lakes could lose their businesses, and the long-term damage to our environment and our economy would be catastrophic.
A disaster of this magnitude would wreak havoc on generations of Michiganders — and we need be prepared with effective tools and strategies to address oil spills in freshwater. Many of the existing technologies and tools used to clean up spills in saltwater environments are either untested or do not work in freshwater, and the ice that frequently covers the Great Lakes for months of the year only increases the challenges for the Coast Guard and other responders. For freshwater environments, the science is simply not where it needs to be.
That is why I introduced a provision, which was recently signed into law as part of broader Coast Guard legislation, establishing a U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes. Once established, the Great Lakes Center of Expertise will study the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and develop effective response strategies.
The Center’s experts will be tasked with identifying gaps in freshwater oil spill research, and develop, test, and evaluate freshwater oil spill response equipment, technologies and techniques to address oil spills in the Great Lakes. The Center will also train federal, state and local first responders to strengthen coordination and incident response.
Given Michigan’s proximity to critical pipeline infrastructure and prestigious research universities with excellent freshwater science programs, I believe our state is uniquely situated to host this new Great Lakes Center of Expertise. While the Coast Guard will make the final determination on the Center’s location, I have urged them to help save taxpayer dollars by leveraging the relevant research and partnership opportunities among Michigan’s research institutions, private companies and environmental organizations.
We cannot wait until a disaster strikes to figure out how to limit the damage of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes. This Center of Expertise is a vital step toward identifying much-needed solutions that will help strengthen the Coast Guard’s arsenal and ensure they are truly ‘Semper Paratus’ to respond swiftly and effectively to threats facing the Great Lakes.
By: U.S. Senator Gary Peters
Source: Lansing State Journal
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