An oil pipeline rupture in the Straits of Mackinac is a terrifying possibility. While Enbridge certainly shares that concern, many other groups are considering the implications of trying to clean up a spill in this highly sensitive area, and the potential for preventing one.


On July 10, 2014, the National Wildlife Federation released an important new computer simulation that demonstrates clearly what could happen if there were an oil spill at the Mackinac Straits. The video simulation, produced by researchers at the University of Michigan, shows how devastating an oil spill beneath the Straits of Mackinac would be for the Great Lakes, wildlife, and area communities. The animation shows that if a major oil spill occurs, oil could reach popular tourist destinations like Mackinac Island, blanket 50 miles of Lake Huron shoreline, and reach Lake Michigan landmarks such as Beaver Island.

Follow this link for multiple spill scenarios 

"If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it," said David Schwab, Ph.D., research scientist at the University of Michigan Water Center, one of the foremost experts on Great Lakes water currents, and creator of the animation.

"The currents are powerful and change directions frequently. In the event of an oil spill, these factors would lead to a big mess that would be very difficult to contain."

In his study, Schwab simulated the release of contaminants at various locations and depths within the Straits of Mackinac. The simulations and video animation track an oil spill of 1 million gallons that would be released over a 12-hour period - a conservative estimate based on the size of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline and how quickly the spill would be detected and oil supply shut off. The animation shows where oil would travel in the 20 days following a spill.

"If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it" - David Schwab, Ph.D., research scientist at the University of Michigan Water Center

Line 5 Oil Spill Impact Map"An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have devastating consequences for people, fish and wildlife, and the economy. It would be an unparalleled disaster for the Great Lakes," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center. "This old pipeline needs to be replaced so that we can protect the Great Lakes from future spills."

As seen in the animation, a spill could reach both Beaver Island in Lake Michigan and Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, popular destinations for thousands of people around the Great Lakes region and the world. Oil could also harm some of the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron fisheries, hurting the region's outdoor recreation economy and those who enjoy fishing and watching wildlife.


Read coverage and watch complete videos of the symposium

On June 24, 2014, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council hosted a Northern Michigan Pipeline Symposium at Petoskey High School. Panelists provided valuable information on pipeline operation, regulation, oil spill response planning, and specific information about Enbridge’s Line 5 through the Straits. The event brought greater attention to pipelines and focused on providing an improved understanding of the pipelines in Northern Michigan; the roles and procedures taken by regulators and pipeline operators with respect to pipeline operation and regulations; how federal, state, and local agencies, as well as Enbridge, are working to ensure safety; and how the public can help protect our community.

The Symposium provided detailed presentations from:

  • Brad Shamla, Vice President, U.S. Operations, Enbridge Corporation
  • Allan Beshore, Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
  • Ralph Dollhopf, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Jennifer McKay, Tip of the Mitt Policy Specialist

There was also a panel discussion with questions from the audience and answers from panelists, which included:

  • Associated Petroleum Industries of Michigan
  • Enbridge
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • Health Department of Northwest Michigan
  • Marine Pollution Control
  • Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
  • Michigan Environmental Council
  • Michigan Public Service Commission
  • Pipeline Safety Trust
  • Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
  • Tri-County Office of Emergency Management
  • U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie 


Oil and gas pipeline spills are not unusual, accounting for hundreds of explosions, fires, seeps, and spills in the United States every year. From 2000 to 2009, pipeline accidents accounted for 2,554 significant incidents, 161 fatalities, and 576 injuries in the United States.

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