The National Wildlife Federation commissioned a report with the University of Michigan (UofM) to show how a spill would spread if the two Enbridge pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac were to ever rupture. The issue of how oil will disperse, and the lack of realistic spill response, is something I’ve talked about here before – it is the reason why we need to do everything we can to prevent a spill from ever occurring, even if it means removing the pipelines altogether.
This new report, and the modeling from UofM, has led NWF to classify the Straits of Mackinac as one of the worst places to put an oil pipeline, let alone two 60-year-old pipelines. You can check out what a spill will look like in the month of September here:
While I agree with NWF wholeheartedly and thank them for getting this information out to the public, I also believe the people holding all the cards (Enbridge and perhaps some spill response agencies) take a different perspective on this issue. A perspective I’m not happy to write about or acknowledge, but sadly it’s the truth and it is a spill response tactic that Congress needs to address.
As many of us witnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, our government allowed BP to spend millions of dollars on toxic chemical dispersants to deal with the Deepwater Horizon spill, which they sprayed all over the ocean in order make the oil sink and spread – out of sight, out of mind. BP’s plan was to spread the oil out and let nature deal with it. While chemical dispersants were not used in the Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill, Enbridge is taking a similar approach to deal with submerged oil. They are leaving large amounts of oil in the environment, which has spread to the point where it is unrecoverable, and hoping that nature will take care of it.
Now, 4 years later, we are inundated with stories on massive toxic tar balls washing up on the Gulf’s shore or incredible amounts of oil just floating at the bottom of the ocean floor, causing unknown amounts of longer term damage to wildlife, people and the environment.
So, while the UofM model should definitely scare some people into action, I get the impression (based on how past spills have been dealt with) that the real people in charge look at this and see a much different opportunity. Enbridge will never admit it, nor will some responding agencies, but the way the Straits of Mackinac disperses oil might be seen simply as nature taking care of the problem. Don’t get me wrong – I know (or at least hope) there will be a grand effort to contain a leak..but I’m also not naive to the fact that dispersing oil is one of the oldest and dirtiest tricks in the book.
With all that being said, I hope the idea of oil being dispersed in the Great Lakes, the freshwater drinking source for 40 million people, will provoke a different way of thinking..but I’m not going to hold my breath considering BP spilled oil into Lake Michigan this past spring and there was very little effort put in place to collect oil beyond the shoreline.
This point should not be taken lightly – we all need to be proactive in fighting inaction on this pipeline. Fighting to ensure that Enbridge is doing everything humanly possible to never have a leak. Fighting for full transparency. Fighting to get the Great Lakes on track with renewable energy so Enbridge no longer has the right to say a pipeline in this location is for the betterment of society. And of course, we need to hold our elected officials accountable for inaction- if they are not acting in the best interest of communities and natural resources, then we need to vote them out of office.
I encourage everyone to sign up for updates from oilandwaterdontmix.com – this communication tool will soon have several different opportunities for public engagement, including calling for improved pipeline safety. This site will also be a clearinghouse for the latest information and news stories – Please check it out!