Enbridge Oil Pipeline is a Sunken Hazard in the Great Lakes

I got a surprise last week after we released our report on the Enbridge oil pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac:  a national business news story that seemed to imply that Enbridge’s investors seem to be as concerned about the pipeline as we are. NASDAQ put out an article entitled, Safety of Enbridge Mackinac Pipeline Questioned By NWF; Stock Down 1%. And Bloomberg Business came out with “Great Lakes At Risk Of Major Oil Spill, Report Warns”.

After thinking it through, such a business reaction makes sense. The NWF report, Sunken Hazard: Aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac, an ever-present threat to the Great Lakes, documents a potentially disastrous plan for the Great Lakes: the expansion of a 20 million gallon a day oil pipeline on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The report, written by Beth Wallace and Jeff Alexander, reveals a ticking time bomb that threatens the jewels of Michigan and the Great Lakes – the straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island.

The new report describes a 60-year old pipeline carrying 20 million gallons a day of toxic oil at high temperature and pressure under the Straits of Mackinac. This pipeline is operated by Enbridge, the same company that was responsible for the massive oil spill into the Kalamazoo River two years ago. And now Enbridge is proposing to increase the pumping capacity by 50,000 barrels a day – that’s 2.1 million gallons.

Until now, this pipeline and its proposed expansion have stayed under the radar of the public…and apparently, Enbridge’s investors.

But now they’re seemingly paying attention. As the report details, a major rupture in this pipeline (Line 5) could result in a BP-oil-sized catastrophe in the Great Lakes. That’s a lot of liability. And the company’s record does not inspire confidence that Line 5 is secure or that Enbridge could minimize the damage if it did spring a leak. Enbridge has had 800 pipeline spills and ruptures between 1999 and 2010, including 80 spills in the pipeline system that includes Line 5.

We’ve worked so hard over the past few years to clean up the Great Lakes, and we’ve made enormous progress with Great Lakes restoration funding, the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, and a new binational Great Lakes agreement to protect water quality. That progress would all be thrown away if Enbridge’s Line 5 should rupture.

This is a recipe for disaster. Enbridge cannot be allowed to expand the oil flow in Line 5 – instead, it should replace the line with new pipe to greatly reduce the risk of a leak. That’s a win-win: it’s the right thing to do for the Great Lakes, and it should give Enbridge’s investors some peace of mind.

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