An independent report released Thursday analyzes the risks of a worst-case-scenario oil spill from Enbridge's Line 5.
Concern about Line 5, which runs through the Straits of Mackinac and transports crude oil into Canada, has been growing since an oil spill from another pipeline in 2010. When an anchor dented Line 5 in April, public outcry increased.
This most recent report is part of an effort from Governor Snyder to assess the Line 5 situation and create a plan to prevent any damage it might do to the Great Lakes.
The report, titled “Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines,” was submitted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Guy Meadows of Michigan Tech University. It calculates the damage a worst-case-scenario would have on the Great Lakes and its surrounding region.
As it turns out, that damage could affect as much as 400 miles of shoreline in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario, and it could cost the state nearly $2 billion.
Drew Youngedyke works for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center. He told Stateside he worries the report might underestimate the amount of time it would take Enbridge to find out about a spill, considering it took the company 17 hours to detect the 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River.
“If it takes them longer to detect the spill, then these numbers are going to get bigger. But even the numbers that are contained in this report are absolutely frightening,” he says.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources commissioned the report, along with two of the state’s other environmental agencies. DNR director Keith Creagh, who is also the co-chair of the Pipeline Safety Advisory Council, says it’s highly unlikely the worst-case-scenario would actually occur. Still, he says it’s important to plan for the worst.
“We needed to know, even though it may not happen, what would happen, and what would the cost be … who or what was in the vicinity of a spill, whether its wildlife or public health or natural resource damage.”
Creagh says the report just confirms the need for an alternative to the current Line 5. He’s still interested in exploring the option of creating a tunnel around the pipeline to protect it from hazards. Critics of that plan say it would take too long and still might not offer enough protection.
Snyder is expected to decide what action to take by September. As a member of Snyder’s cabinet, Creagh will offer his insight to the governor as he’s making a decision.
Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy told Michigan Radio that the company is working with the state to figure out next steps for the pipeline.
“The scenarios that were looked at in this report, they’re purely hypothetical and the probability of these events actually occurring is extremely unlikely…. Our focus is completely on prevention and preventing [an oil spill] from happening.”
Enbridge is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.