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1,160 kilometres of Great Lakes shoreline vulnerable to a Line 5 pipeline spill

Study finds a Line 5 spill could reach Manitoulin Island.

The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline threatens the Great Lakes.

The Line 5 pipeline transports up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil, and natural gas liquids. The pipeline, built in 1953, runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet.

The Canadian Press reports, “Hundreds of kilometres of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shoreline are at risk of contamination if an Enbridge pipeline that runs between them ruptures, according to a study released [March 31]. The report by the University of Michigan Water Center, and supported by the National Wildlife Federation, is based on 840 computer simulations of possible spills from twin lines that run across the floor of the straits linking the two lakes. …The study looked at the potential fallout for up to five days after a theoretical leakage and found that along with significant contamination around the pipeline itself in Michigan, oil slick could travel as far as Canada’s Manitoulin Island and the South Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron.”

The study found that 1,160 kilometres of shoreline in the U.S. and Canada are considered potentially vulnerable to a Line 5 spill.

The Detroit Free Press comments, “The research, performed by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Water Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, is a grim reminder of the risk posed by the aging Line 5. The pipeline is owned by Canada-based oil transporter Enbridge, the same company responsible for a devastating 2010 oil spill on the Kalamazoo River.”

The commentary adds, “Because of strong and complex currents, one researcher has called the straits ‘the worst possible place for a Great Lakes oil spill’. The U.S. Coast Guard has repeatedly raised alarms about its ability to effectively respond to a spill on the Great Lakes, where high seas could make deployment of the ships typically dispatched to such spills unsafe. And watching a set of videos produced by the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute is like watching an environmental horror film. The videos show how oil spilled in the straits would disperse — spreading, in one scenario, almost to Michigan’s thumb.”

The newspaper then notes, “While pipeline safety and capacity are regulated by a federal agency, Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette have the authority to ask a judge to vacate the easement agreement that effectively allows Enbridge to function as an oil transporter. But neither man has done so.”

The Council of Canadians has called on Governor Snyder to shut down Line 5.

For more from Brent, follow him on Twitter at @CBrentPatterson