Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Stanley “Skip” Pruss and originally ran on the blog of 5 Lakes Energy, where he is principal and co-founder. It is re-posted here with permission.
Pruss is also a member of the Board of Directors for FLOW (For Love of Water)—one of MEC’s many partners in the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign to prevent a catastrophic oil spill from the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
“You wouldn’t site, and you wouldn’t build and construct pipelines underneath the Straits today.”
—Attorney General Bill Schuette [Begging the question: If a state-of-the-art, 21st Century pipeline presents an unacceptable risk, why is the continued use of an aging, mid-20th Century pipeline acceptable?]
Many compelling reasons exist to terminate the use of Line 5, the twin 20-inch pipelines carrying crude oil and natural gas liquids that cross the state-owned bottomlands under the Straits of Mackinac. Much research, analysis, and modelling has been done by scientists, engineers, lawyers and academics demonstrating that Line 5 poses an unreasonable risk. Yet Line 5 continues in use, operating under the inherent illogic that a 63-year-old undersea pipeline can function indefinitely without incident.
To the many arguments compelling closure, let me offer another – one that is decidedly minor when compared to the potential catastrophic impacts of a Line 5 failure – but an argument that might manage to nudge your outrage quotient up a notch:
You and I are subsidizing Enbridge to maintain and operate Line 5.
But before addressing the many ways public resources are being expended to benefit Enbridge, let’s review some of the facts that should have already been determinative.
- There exists an imminent risk of catastrophic harm to one-third of North America’s surface water that is Lakes Michigan and Huron (one lake). UM’s Graham Sustainability Institute’s analysis indicates that more than 700 miles of shoreline in Lakes Michigan and Huron and proximate islands are potentially vulnerable to an oil release in the Straits that would result in accumulation requiring cleanup, and that more than 15% of Lake Michigan’s open water (3,528 square miles), and nearly 60% of Lake Huron’s open water (13,611 square miles) could be affected by visible oil from a spill in the Straits.
- “Imminent risk” has two components – the likelihood of a failure and the potential magnitude of the harm. The UM study and the National Wildlife Federation report Sunken Hazard have amply demonstrated the magnitude of potential harm through dispersion modelling. The likelihood of failure cannot be regarded as zero as Enbridge’s own inspections have revealed corrosion in nine locations, 55 “circumferential” cracks, and loss of wall thickness in the pipeline itself.
- The U.S. Coast Guard has acknowledged its limited capacity to launch an effective remedial response should a spill event occur in winter or with waves over 4-5 feet – a common occurrence in the Straits.
- Enbridge pipelines have had 804 document spills through 2010 with at least five additional spills since 2012.
These facts illustrate a risk of substantial harm to Lakes Michigan and Huron – a globally unique freshwater resource – as well as to the coastal communities and the tens of millions of people connected to and served by these waters.
So let’s start there – who bears the risk?
First, Enbridge has transferred the risk of harm to people of the Great Lakes Region. The risk of harm can be quantified, modeled and monetized. Read more