MLive: To prevent Great Lakes oil spills, map the risks and strengthen rules
An oil spill on the Great Lakes would be disastrous — and unfortunately, Michigan families know firsthand the devastating consequences a pipeline break can have on our state.
Five years ago, our state experienced one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history, contaminating 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Oil flowed for nearly 17 hours before it was shut off, spilling over 800,000 gallons of heavy crude, and racking up a cleanup cost of $1.2 billion.
We are deeply concerned about the potential for future spills in Michigan — particularly from Line 5, a pair of 60-year old oil and gas pipelines that lie exposed in the water at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The Straits have been called the "worst possible place" for an oil spill in the entire Great Lakes basin. The currents there tend to reverse direction frequently, moving water at a rate over 10 times greater than the flow over Niagara Falls.
Mackinac Island is well known as a spectacular vacation spot where visitors come to enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides and some of Michigan's most beautiful scenery. But according to research from the University of Michigan, an oil spill in the Straits could mean oil lapping up on the shores of Mackinac Island in just 12 hours.
Even more troubling is that Coast Guard officials have acknowledged that current response techniques for submerged oil are inadequate for open freshwater or ice cover. And state and local officials have struggled to obtain information to help them prepare for spills.
That's why we introduced the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act, legislation that will take concrete steps to prevent accidents and protect our Great Lakes from catastrophic crude oil spills:
• Requiring independent assessments of oil spill response and cleanup activities for the Great Lakes — specifically taking into account a spill under solid ice.
• Requiring an examination of risks associated with pipelines in the Great Lakes and regional waterways, including an analysis of alternatives to Line 5.
• Increasing transparency so residents are notified about pipelines near their property, and compelling operators and regulators to make more information publicly available.
• Expanding the criteria for pipelines in "high consequence areas" — creating jobs for pipefitters and engineers — while protecting population centers, drinking water, and environmentally sensitive areas.
• Banning the shipment of crude oil on the Great Lakes. Tanker vessels do not currently ship crude oil on the Great Lakes, but it is increasingly being looked at as a transportation alternative. Taking this option off the table will prevent the possibility of an environmental disaster like the Exxon Valdez spill.
Our bill is supported by a broad range of organizations, including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, For Love of Water (FLOW), Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen's Association, National Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes and more.
The Great Lakes are a major part of our way of life in Michigan, supporting our multibillion-dollar agriculture, shipping and tourism industries, and the threat of an oil spill demands urgent action. As U.S. senators from the Great Lakes State, we are committed to working to ensure we meet our energy needs safely while preserving treasures like the Great Lakes for future generations.
By: US Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow
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