Michigan — June 22, 2015 at 8:39 am

Oil in the Water: Once it’s black and blue, it’s too late


I’m adding my voice to the chorus of those who call for Governor Snyder and the legislature to protect the Great Lakes as required by law and as demanded in Liz Kirkwood’s excellent op-ed in The Detroit News this week.

Kirkwood’s study group, For Love of Water (FLOW), delivered compelling arguments that Enbridge Oil’s 62 year-old oil pipeline 5 that carries 23 million gallons of oil a day through the Straits of Mackinac needs to be temporarily shut down and fully inspected. In July, 2014, University of Michigan researchers produced a chilling animation of an oil spill scenario.

Enbridge is still cleaning up the five year-old oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history although you wouldn’t know it because there was surprisingly little outrage shown over it at the time except by those who lived in the affected area. But, instead of keeping a skeptical eye on Enbridge, Michigan’s political leaders appear to be aiding and abetting them in their next disaster with House Bill 4540 that exempts utility pipeline information from FOIA requests. The specious rationale for this bill is that providing information could enable terrorist acts.

This bill might have made sense after 9/11/2001, but no such legislation was introduced until this spring right after activist groups started expressing concerns about the integrity of the pipeline in the Straits. Now it appears the GOP has scrambled to protect the oil industry from the prying eyes of those who know water is more important than oil and from those communities who might want to develop contingency plans for dealing with a spill.

It’s heartening to know that activists concerned about the Great Lakes got the Governor’s attention at the recent annual Mackinac Island Policy Confab by carrying their message outside the Grand Hotel as esteemed guests arrived, and that three activists got into the opening session and interrupted the Governor’s rosy welcome to the affair, thereby exposing another chink in his political armor and putting him on notice that something substantive must be done.

A day after the Kalamazoo spill in 2010, I met and spoke with Rick Snyder who was in Dearborn campaigning for governor and I asked him how he’d respond to such an event as governor. He said he wasn’t aware of the event and needed to know more about it. He had no general answer about responding to any kind of disaster. Unfortunately that may still be the case even though that’s one of his key responsibilities as governor. If Snyder wants to cast himself as a leader, he should take the proactive step of requiring a full inspection and certified update on Enbridge’s maintenance of the pipeline, performed at Enbridge’s expense, including underwater photos of a representative number of pipe joints. If he neglects to do this and the pipeline blows, the railing of responsible activists will pale in comparison to what he will get from the business community and the entire electorate. And that House Bill to hide information in an effort to toady up to the utilities and give them cover should be called out for what it is.

[Photo by Anne C.Savage, special to Eclectablog]