Business and political leaders call for action to prevent looming disaster as Michigan powerbrokers gather for the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.
The fresh drinking water and whitefish, passenger ferry service, and Pure Michigan economy that await next week’s attendees of the annual Mackinac Policy Conference all could be wiped out by a sea of oil if state policymakers fail to act urgently to stop the oil flowing through a pair of rusty old pipelines in the Mackinac Straits, said business, political, and scientific leaders in a statewide teleconference today.
As powerbrokers gather on Mackinac Island to debate Michigan’s most vital issues, they must tackle the growing threat from the Enbridge “Line 5” oil pipelines to the Great Lakes and to local businesses and communities – including Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, Charlevoix, and Alpena – that would wither if an oil spill tainted their Great Lakes drinking water supply and source of tourism and jobs.
“Enbridge needs to act now and realize Line 5 is a ticking time bomb that needs to be shut down immediately,” said Chris Shepler, president of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, chairman of the Mackinaw City Downtown Development Authority, and vice president of the St. Ignace Visitor’s Bureau. “If there’s a Great Lakes oil spill, it would be game over for my family’s ferry business after 71 years of continuous service, and economic shock would overtake the entire region for years to come.”
“Enbridge has broken its contract with the people of Michigan and is operating Line 5 illegally. It’s time for the state to enforce our laws and protect something we cannot live without – the Great Lakes.” - Kate Madigan, Policy Specialist at the Michigan Environmental Council
The city of Mackinac Island and 40 other communities in northern Michigan and across the state have passed resolutions calling on Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette to stop Line 5’s oil flow while a state advisory board studies alternatives that don’t threaten the Great Lakes. Seven tribes and hundreds of businesses and organizations also support that call. And a recent poll found that 66 percent of Michigan residents believe Enbridge should not transport oil under the Straits of Mackinac.
If the pipeline were to leak oil into the Straits of Mackinac, the effects on Mackinac Island would be disastrous, the Mackinac Island City Council said in its resolution. These impacts include to the island's drinking water supply.
“We get our drinking water directly from Lake Huron, and our water plant cannot filter out oil. If there were an oil spill, our water supply would be cut off for as long as there is oil in the water,” said Allen Burt, water plant manager for Mackinac Island. He added that the water stored in the island’s reservoirs would provide only one day’s supply during peak summer tourist season.
Research released this spring by the University of Michigan shows that the threat from Line 5 is grave, with up to 700 miles of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shoreline stretching from the Grand Traverse region to Saginaw Bay potentially vulnerable to an oil spill in the Straits.
“Our computer modeling shows that more than 15 percent of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60 percent of Lake Huron’s open water is vulnerable to pollution by visible oil from a spill in the Mackinac Straits,” said Dr. David Schwab, a world-renowned research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Water Center in Ann Arbor. “The water flow in the Straits can be more powerful than flow at Niagara Falls and because it changes direction every few days it could quickly whip an oil spill into a widespread environmental disaster.”
In bipartisan efforts, State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) both have introduced legislation to shut down Line 5 in the Straits, citing the unacceptable economic and environmental risk, while U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township), have introduced bills seeking to protect the Great Lakes from Line 5’s threat.
“Michigan residents cannot drink Canadian oil, and Michigan’s economy could crash if Enbridge turns the Great Lakes black.” said Jones, noting that one in five Michigan jobs – more than 700,000 jobs in all – is tied to having high quality and plentiful water, according to the state Office of the Great Lakes, including shipping, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, and more than 80 other water-using industry subsectors.
"The Straits of Mackinac is the worst place in the Great Lakes for an accident,” Irwin said. “The complicated and unpredictable currents of the Straits expose miles of Pure Michigan coastline to a spill that cannot feasibly be contained. That's why Michigan needs to help Enbridge reroute this oil and shut down this pipeline as soon as possible." Irwin added that Enbridge’s 2010 spill of a million gallons of tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River watershed took four years and more than $1.2 billion to clean up to the extent possible.
“Our computer modeling shows that more than 15 percent of Lake Michigan’s open water and nearly 60 percent of Lake Huron’s open water is vulnerable to pollution by visible oil from a spill in the Mackinac Straits,” - Dr. David Schwab, Research Scientist at the University of Michigan’s Water Center in Ann Arbor.
The Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign on April 13 sent a letter to Gov. Snyder, Attorney General Schuette, and other state officials detailing eight known violations of Enbridge’s easement agreement allowing the company conditional use of state waters and bottomlands. Among the violations, Enbridge has failed to meet pipeline wall thickness requirements, concealed information about cracks and dents in the pipeline, and failed to demonstrate it has adequate liability insurance.
“Enbridge has broken its contract with the people of Michigan and is operating Line 5 illegally,” said Kate Madigan, a policy specialist at the Michigan Environmental Council and spokesperson for the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign. “It’s time for the state to enforce our laws and protect something we cannot live without – the Great Lakes.”
For More Information Contact:
- Chris Shepler, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Service, 231-436-5023
- Dr. David Schwab, University of Michigan Water Center, 734-763-1093
- Kate Madigan, Michigan Environmental Council, 231-633-5353