Some of my favorite childhood memories include hiking trips across Northern Michigan and taking in the beauty that is our Great Lakes. As my own children grew up, we regularly went on family trips across Michigan because I wanted to make sure the natural wonders of our state could be passed along to the next generation.
The Great Lakes mean so much to me personally, as they do to millions of Michiganders. They are more than just an economic engine and drinking water source: they are a way of life in Michigan.
That’s why we must protect our Lakes at all costs – and why I am very concerned about the unique threat posed by the Line 5 pipeline running underneath the Straits of Mackinac. Any pipeline leak – no matter how minor – could devastate the Great Lakes watershed and contaminate much of the safe drinking water 40 million people rely on.
According to the University of Michigan, the volume of water going through the Straits of Mackinac is ten times that of Niagara Falls, and it’s rapidly changing currents could carry oil up and down Michigan’s coasts in the event of a spill. Like you, I was alarmed by recent reports that sections of Line 5 are missing critical protective coatings.
In March, I teamed up with Senator Stabenow to demand some answers from Enbridge, whose past assurances about the structural integrity of Line 5 run directly counter to these reports. Here’s what we want to know:
- How many areas of the pipeline have lost coating, to what extent has coating loss occurred, and how and when were these areas discovered?
- What inspections and remedial action are underway to address existing and future coating loss?
- If areas along Line 5 lack a coating or wrap, how does that affect the structural integrity of the pipeline?
These are just a few of the many serious questions must be addressed by Enbridge. But while we work to find these answers, we can’t afford to keep our eye off other concerns related to pipeline safety in the Great Lakes.
For example, U.S. Coast Guard officials have told me that we do not have adequate research or a plan for cleanup of oil spills in fresh water, especially under heavy ice cover and adverse weather conditions that we see during Michigan winters.
Last year, I was pleased that my bipartisan pipeline safety bill was signed into law by then-President Obama. Among other provisions, it required the federal agency overseeing pipeline safety to consider ice cover when developing oil spill response plans, designated the Great Lakes a high consequence area – making any pipeline in the Lakes subject to higher standards – and required pipeline reviews and oversight on the age and integrity of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.
I’m also focused on efforts to classify Line 5 – and other pipelines crossing the Great Lakes – as offshore pipelines. Right now, Line 5 is considered an onshore pipeline, meaning it’s held to less stringent regulatory standards and liability requirements in the event of a spill. Given the potential for significant economic and ecological harm from an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this change in classification is critical.
Finally, I’ll be looking at ways to improve freshwater spill research and make updates to our coastal maps and data in order to better safeguard our natural resources.
We must continue to highlight the risks posed by Line 5, and FLOW’s efforts to shine a light on these risks is more important than ever. From keeping our Great Lakes free of pollution to highlighting the dangers of invasive species like Asian Carp, I applaud FLOW’s commitment to protecting this unique ecosystem. Together, we can work to keep our Great Lakes clean and safe for future generations of Michiganders.