Last week, 550 gallons of coolant containing toxic organic solvents (alkyl derivatives of benzene, specifically) were released into Lake Michigan from an electrical transmission cable running under the Straits of Mackinac. It happened because a ship went through the Straits dragging its anchor. (UPDATE: It appears that it was a tugboat owned by VanEnkevort Tug & Barge.)
Enbridge Energy clearly had an “oh shit!” moment since the twin gas pipelines they own that run under the Straits were just a few hundred yards away. Sure enough, after an inspection, they found three dents in the two pipelines which carry nearly 1 million gallons of petroleum per hour. The pipelines, part of Enbridge’s Line 5, are 65 years old.
Here’s where the pipeline runs:
As I wrote in 2015, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand the utter catastrophe that would result if this pipeline, like the Enbridge pipeline that dumped over a million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, were to rupture. Imagine the scenario of this happening in February when the Straits of Mackinac are covered in eight feet of solid ice and when the only ship traffic is through a narrow channel created by a Great Lakes icebreaker. It’s no wonder that University of Michigan researchers called the Straits “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”
It’s worth noting that the Line 6B spill cost well over $1,000,000,000 (yes, that’s a BILLION dollars) to clean up.
Here’s a bit more information to freak you out, again from my 2015 essay:
For their part, Enbridge says that Line 5 is one of the “most inspected pipelines” in America. However, there is literally no plan in place to deal with a pipeline rupture that will adequately protect the Great Lakes so essentially what they are telling us is that they will know they exact moment when they begin to destroy this precious and valuable ecosystem and fresh water supply. Nearly a million gallons of oil would erupt into Lake Michigan per hour until they could get it under control.
Given that it took them 17 hours after the Kalamazoo pipeline ruptured before they notified anyone, we have no way of knowing when they would actually tell the world that they had created the most catastrophic man-made disaster in Michigan history.
This is apparently what nearly happened last week when the dragging ship anchor kertwanged off both pipelines.
In response, Gov. Rick Snyder quickly issued a sternly-worded press release “demanding that its own experts verify” Enbridge’s contention that all is well and that there is nothing to see here. He also asks could they please hurry up with the study that he “demanded” last fall from Enbridge investigating other alternatives to Line 5.
The fact is, Line 5 is simply a shortcut for moving Canadian oil to another part of Canada. Instead of going through Canada, it detours through Michigan:
Image courtesy of For Love of Water (FLOW)
A 2015 report from For Love of Water (FLOW) details that alternatives DO exist and that Line 5 is not “vital energy infrastructure”, despite claims otherwise. According to a fact sheet published by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Line 5, which transports synthetic crude, natural gas liquids, sweet crude, and light sour crude, does not have a federally approved emergency response plan at the Straits. It has already leaked over 1 million gallons of oil in the past 50 years.
The time is over for sternly-worded press releases from our state’s leaders. It’s time to shut down Line 5 and end the practice of pumping almost a million gallons of oil per hour under the Great Lakes which contain fully one-fifth of the world’s freshwater (or, as they call it in Europe, “sweet water”.)
But our corporatist governor will never do that and neither will his Lt. Gov. Brian Calley who “stopped short of calling for Line 5 to be decommissioned” at a townhall at Michigan State University this week. It didn’t stop Calley from bossing around his gubernatorial primary opponent, Attorney General Bill Schuette, though. While Gov. Snyder is out of the state, Calley asked Schuette to “initiate legal action on behalf of the State of Michigan against the ship’s owners and operators or other potential responsible parties”.
All four Democratic candidates for governor have said they will shut down Line 5.