Michigan governor moves to shut down Straits of Mackinac pipelines: U-M experts available

November 13, 2020
Contact: Jim Erickson ericksn@umich.edu
A diver working on the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. Image credit: National Wildlife Federation

A diver working on the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. Image credit: National Wildlife Federation

EXPERTS ADVISORY

University of Michigan experts are available to discuss Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Friday announcement that Enbridge has been notified that the 1953 easement allowing the company to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac to transport petroleum and other products is being revoked and terminated.

David Schwab

David Schwab

David Schwab, a hydrodynamicist formerly with the U-M Water Center and now retired, led a 2014 study that sounded the alarm about the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of an oil spill from the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. The computer-simulation study found that oil would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away, in both lakes Michigan and Huron.

In a follow-up study two years later, Schwab found that more than 700 miles of shoreline in lakes Huron and Michigan are potentially vulnerable to oil spills if the Line 5 pipelines rupture. Up to 152 miles of coastline in lakes Huron and Michigan could be fouled by a single spill in the straits, according to the simulations.

“I applaud Governor Whitmer’s bold decision to revoke the easement for the Enbridge Energy oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac,” he said. “This action is based on sound scientific evidence that the continued operation of the pipelines poses an unacceptable level of risk to the health and safety of residents of Michigan. The governor’s decision will continue to be appreciated by future generations of Michigan citizens.”

Contact: djschwab@umich.edu


Jennifer Read

Jennifer Read

Jennifer Read is director of the U-M Water Center. Former Water Center hydrodynamicist David Schwab, now retired, led a 2014 study that sounded the alarm about the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of an oil spill from the Straits of Mackinac pipelines. The computer-simulation study found that oil would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away, in both lakes Michigan and Huron.

In a follow-up study two years later, Schwab found that more than 700 miles of shoreline in lakes Huron and Michigan are potentially vulnerable to oil spills if the Line 5 pipelines rupture. Up to 152 miles of coastline in lakes Huron and Michigan could be fouled by a single spill in the straits, according to the simulations.

“The precautionary principle generally encourages us to avoid using a chemical or a process whose long-term impacts are uncertain, and we can apply it to the Line 5 situation, too,” Read said. “It is safest—for the health of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and Michigan’s Great Lakes-dependent economy—to stop using the pipeline until we are certain that destructive spills would not occur. If we can’t be certain, we shouldn’t use it at all.”

Contact: 734-769-8898, jenread@umich.edu