The fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline is putting a spotlight on aging oil and gas pipeline infrastructure in the United States that could be vulnerable to devastating spills. Of particular concern for environmental activists and some members of Congress is a buried stretch of an oil pipeline constructed in 1953 that runs beneath the straits of Mackinac, which separates Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas and connects the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron. The two 20 inch pipelines carrying nearly 23 million gallons of crude oil every day at a depth of 270 feet are facing closer scrutiny following high-profile oil pipeline spills in Arkansas, North Dakota and a 2010 Canadian tar sands oil pipeline spill in Michigan that dumped more than one million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary creek — the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Image © Kevin Martini
Calgary-based Enbridge Energy Partners LP owns the massive 1,900 mile Lakehead Pipeline System – the U.S. portion of the Enbridge Pipeline System. The world’s longest petroleum pipeline system, Enbridge runs more than 3,100 miles through Canada and the U.S. and approximately 68 percent of Western Canadian crude oil exports were shipped via the Lakehead system as of 2009.
Enbridge representatives say that the Line 5 segment at the straits of Mackinac is safe and has never leaked. “It’s been operating there for decades and operating safely,” said company spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie. The company has even gone as far as to partner with Michigan Technological University on an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that will provide digital images of the pipeline.
However, the words and actions coming from Enbridge aren’t good enough for some environmental activists and lawmakers who want the pipeline shut down. “It’s a huge pipeline carrying oil in one of the most ecologically beneficial and sensitive places in the world,” Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, told the Associated Press. “A massive oil spill there would have dire and irreversible consequences.”
When the Enbridge-operated Line 6B pipeline burst and started spilling into the Kalamazoo River at an alarming rate, it took Enbridge 18 hours to finally halt the flow. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to dredge the site at a cleanup cost of $765 million and the company was fined $3.7 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation for 22 probable violations relating to the spill.
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) recently sent a letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration expressing their concerns about the safety of the Great Lakes oil pipelines in order to prevent a spill that could be even more disastrous than the Kalamazoo River oil spill.
In related news, a new study found that the U.S. State Department‘s Keystone XL pipeline final environmental impact analysis downplays how significant KXL would be to Canadian tar sands development and underestimates the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would result from an increase in production because of KXL.
Lead image via Earl Leatherberry