Vice News: The Oil Threat to the Great Lakes

August 11, 2015

Vice News Motherboard:

The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and divide Michigan’s lower peninsula from its upper peninsula. But the gorgeous blue expanse of this part of the Great Lakes region is threatened by a danger lurking just beneath its surface: two degrading oil pipelines.

Motherboard correspondent Spencer Chumbley went to Michigan to investigate the situation, and the research is alarming. If just one of the pipelines ruptured, it would result in a spill of 1.5 million gallons of oil—and that’s if Enbridge, the company that owns them, is able to fix the pipeline immediately. UMich research scientist Dave Schwab says, “I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes where it’d be more devastating to have an oil spill.”

Enbridge, the company that runs the pipelines, insists they are safe. But Enbridge does not have a particularly inspiring record, with more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, totalling 6.8 million gallons of spilled oil. In 2010, its pipeline 6B ruptured in the Kalamazoo River. The nation’s focus was pulled by Deepwater Horizon at the time, but the Kalamazoo River spill became the nation’s biggest inland oil spill.

One Response to “Vice News: The Oil Threat to the Great Lakes”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Two days and no comments on this post? “Move on, folks—nothing to see here”? That’s what the PR stooge for Enbridge would like you to believe. In actuality, every gas and petroleum pipeline in the country is a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s just a matter of time before the 60+ year-old pipe in question leaks. Tomorrow? 50 years from now? Does it matter? Ask the folks along the Kalamazoo River.

    The area of Northern VA where I live is criss-crossed with pipelines (although nothing like what is found in TX, LA, and OK). I live about a half mile from a major junction-pumping station-terminal for natural gas and petroleum pipelines near the Manassas National Battlefield Park. One night a few years ago, we were knocked out of bed at 2 AM by a sound like a jet airliner landing in the street—we ran outside (along with most of the neighborhood) to see what was going on. The sound went on for 10 seconds, stopped for 20 or 30 seconds—-repeated the cycle a number of times and then stopped. We put our heads together and decided that it must have been a a pressure relief valve popping on the gas pipeline. No flames leaping into the sky, no sirens, so we went back to bed. There was nothing—NADA—in the papers or on the news the next day, just as there was nothing about whatever caused the crews to dig down near the pipeline a month ago and put hundreds of feet if oil booms out on a 3 acre lake nearby.

    The pipelines are buried in a nice grassy right-of-way that runs right behind homes, apartments, and townhouse-condominium developments. Playgrounds and basketball courts are built over the pipelines in places, also many parking lots—-the parking lots for my local library branch and adjacent government center are almost totally on top of the right-of-way. With suitable signage, of course—-nice little brass plaques embedded in the pavement and nice little signs on the grass saying “pipes under here”. Similar pipelines in streets and parking lots have exploded in NJ and CA, destroying many homes and cars and killing people.

    I did some research after the “pop off valve” incident, and found that we have had a number of pipeline incidents in VA, and that we have had many across the country. Here are a couple of links that are interesting—-scan them and look particularly for the maps and charts.

    Click to access ntsb_doc4.pdf

    I’m reading a great book now titled “Rust”, a very entertaining look at how corrosion and oxidation are civilized man’s enemy—-there’s a chapter about how pipeline companies monitor and “maintain” their infrastructure. I’ll report on it at some future point.

    (And I can’t help but think that we are “rusting” the whole planet by burning carbon. The increased moisture in the atmosphere is going to cause more corrosion damage to the infrastructure also—another hidden cost that we can avoid by not warming the planet)

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