For all the arguments we have seen and heard about the danger of Enbridge’s Line Five at the Straits of Mackinac, nobody bothers to specify the danger. The arguments rage between Michigan, in the person of the state governor, Gretchen Witmer, and Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline company. Washington has also become involved in support of the Michigan governor. And the unlikely alliance of Ontario premier Doug Ford and Ottawa’s Trudeau government are supporting Enbridge.
You can hardly blame Michigan governor Gretchen Witmer for her stance. Her one experience with an Enbridge pipeline spill is the event in 2010 when Enbridge Line 6B spilled close to a million U.S. Gallons of diluted bitumen into Talmadge Creek near Marshall, Michigan. That is before Talmadge Creek flows into the Kalamazoo River. That was a catastrophic spill.
More than 10 years later and the spending of a billion U.S. dollars on the clean-up, there are still 40 kilometres of rivers in South Michigan with compromised ecosystems. A similar spill of diluted bitumen at the Straits of Mackinac would also be catastrophic. It would impact life in five states bordering on the Great Lakes as well as the Province of Ontario on the Canadian side.
The expenditure of a US billion dollars would not start to clean up a bitumen spill in the range of a million US gallons in the Great Lakes. The millions of people living downstream from the spill would have their drinking water compromised, their fisheries gone, their beaches and tourist businesses destroyed. Imagine the destruction of Niagara Falls with the pollution of oily bitumen.
And that is what the Michigan governor wants to prevent.
Many different materials are sent through Enbridge’s Line Five. It is twinned pipelines that carry raw and refined products either way. It delivers propane to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and refined products for gas stations and industry throughout the mid west. A spill of most of these materials can be quickly contained and cleaned up. Enbridge is prepared for that, if it ever happens. The most dangerous spill would be of diluted bitumen—usually on its way to the Koch-owned refinery in Detroit. This bitumen is from the Athabasca and Cold Lake deposits, mainly in Alberta. It is the one material that floats for a while and then, as the diluent is washed off, starts to sink. You could never contain or completely clean up a large diluted bitumen spill in the Great Lakes.
If Enbridge could just contain its greed and arrange for diluted bitumen to be shipped by truck or train until the new Enbridge pipeline tunnel is finished being built under the Straits of Mackinac, we could ease up on the arguments between the two friendly countries. We both have too much invested in the Great Lakes to want to see any parts of them destroyed.
Copyright 2021 © Peter Lowry
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