Mackinac Island Residents Learn About the Enbridge Pipeline

       Mackinac Island Residents Learn About the Enbridge Pipeline

By Stephanie Fortino

The Mackinac Island Community Hall filled with citizens interested in learning more about the Enbridge Pipeline Line 5 that runs on the lake bottom at the Straits of Mackinac Thursday, September 4. The meeting was organized by several citizens on the Island to raise awareness of the pipeline and the potential risks it poses to the Island and Straits of Mackinac.

Members of the water policy group For Love of Water (FLOW) led the discussion, and FLOW founder Jim Olson described the threat of an oil spill as a concern for everyone.

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood reviewed the history of Line 5, which was built in 1953, before the construction of the Mackinac Bridge. The Canadian oil company secured an easement on the lakebed to construct their pipeline, which was more or less forgotten over the years. The infamous Enbridge oil spill on the Kalamazoo River near Marshall in 2010 and a report by the National Wildlife Federation called “Sunken Hazard” spurred an increase in awareness about Line 5, she reported. Line 5 is also in violation of some regulations, including having adequate anchoring structures, she added.

“The goal is to protect the Great Lakes from a devastating oil spill,” said Kelly Thayer, also of FLOW. “It’s our bottomlands, it’s our water, it should be open for public discussion.”

Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the University of Michigan Biological Station, also spoke at the meeting and explained a computer model that describes how water flows through Straits of Mackinac. U-M researchers David Schwab and Eric Anderson conducted the study.

While the study incorporates complex physics in trying to simulate how water moves through the straits, Mr. Nadelhoffer said the basic lesson learned from it is that water travels in complex ways and across great distances after passing under the Mackinac Bridge, and those water routes change depending on the time of year and other factors.

The study used a color tracer in water to illustrate how water moves, and it gives scientists a general idea of how far oil could travel if a leak occurred.

“Any release on any given day can go in any number of directions,” Mr. Nadelhoffer said. “…It’s like trying to predict the weather.”

Computer simulations have not been done on how water moves through the Straits of Mackinac with ice cover, he noted.

Bob Wagner, head of the Department of Environmental Quality Remediation and Redevelopment Division, also spoke and answered some questions about steps the DEQ would take if an oil spill would occur in the Straits of Mackinac.

The DEQ is in the process of reviewing information about Line 5 provided by Enbridge, after which the department will have a better understanding of the current condition of the pipeline, said Mr. Wagner.

He agreed that the Kalamazoo River oil spill was a wake-up call for everyone.

“We really haven’t thought about this pipeline for generations,” he said.

A challenge to responding to an oil spill effectively is having the proper equipment and people trained to clean up spills. The DEQ will create response plans for a potential Line 5 spill, he continued, and response techniques will have to cater to the type of oil spill, location of the oil spill, and time of year.

No matter how much time the DEQ prepares for an oil spill, Mr. Wagner said, “A major event takes time to respond to.”

Trained people and equipment will have to travel to the area if an oil spill occurs, and most of it is located near the Gulf of Mexico, where oil drilling is concentrated.

The first step the DEQ takes in responding to an oil spill is to remove possible ignition sources. For example, if a flammable type of oil is spilled and floats on the surface of the water, ferry transportation to the Island would be shut down to reduce fire potential.

An oil spill training session funded by Enbridge will take place soon near Indian River, Mr. Wagner noted.

Mr. Olson explained that FLOW is urging the State of Michigan to become more proactive in monitoring the current status of Line 5 to reduce the risk of an oil spill. The group does not advocate for a specific solution, like replacing or removing the pipeline, but instead urges ongoing dialogue and protection of the Great Lakes.

Residents organizing the meeting included Susan Lenfestey, Lorna Straus, Nancy May, and George Goodman, and the Mackinac Island Community Foundation Environmental and Natural Resources Board of Advisors sponsored it.

More information about the pipeline is available at Oil and Water Don’t Mix Web site, More information and previously published stories covering these issues and links to the computer simulation are available in the archives on the Town Crier’s Web site,

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