A group of business leaders, including the president of Cherry Republic, the founder and CEO of Bell’s Brewery, the co-owner of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, and others representing more than 20 businesses banded together to convey that the risks of an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac are too high.
In a recent article, Mary Ellen Geist outlines how this coalition of Midwest business leaders was formed with the purpose of decommissioning the Enbridge Oil Company’s pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac (Great Lakes Now, Mary Ellen Geist, 2017).
Tribal Leaders Speak Out
In addition to business leaders, Tribal organizations are speaking up about the danger of the pipeline. The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa published a formal resolution and plans to reach out to federal, state and local officials for guidance on how to proceed with shutting down the pipeline.
"As many other communities have experienced, even a minor spill could prove to be disastrous for our people," said Bad River Tribal Chairman Robert Blanchard (Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative, January 2017, wcmcoop.com).
Aaron Payment, Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe, pointed to the Enbridge spill near the Kalamazoo River in 2010 (September 16, 2016, Jeff Smith, MyNorth.com). The pipeline failed and the rupture remained undetected for 17 hours, spilling more than 1 million gallons of oil.
Conducted in September 2015, a multi-agency oil spill response drill was conducted in the Straits of Mackinac. Researchers from CILER (Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), see sidebar (right) participated in the drill that included more than 700 people. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter and a NOAA research vessel were among the 18 total vessels deployed during the drill. The NOAA-CILER research team deployed several drifter buoys to collect data, contributing to the effort coordinate multiple agencies and learn about communications and command structure capabilities necessary to respond to an oil spill.
- Businesses, the media, and others have cited a research report and potential oil spill scenarios focused on predicting the impact of an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. University of Michigan research scientist David Schwab led the effort to analyze and provide information about a “Worst Case Oil Spill” scenario.
- Researcher Eric Anderson is the lead developer of hydrodynamic models used to assess the circulation around the Straights of Mackinac. See Predicting Currents. Formerly a CILER researcher, Anderson is now a hydrodynamic modeler at the Ann Arbor-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (NOAA-GLERL).
- NOAA-GLERL and CILER researchers, present for the oil spill response drill, ran the mobile platforms and sensors used during that exercise. The research vessel gathered data from different locations and depths in the Straits, near the pipeline. Part of NOAA’s mission is to support Coast Guard efforts. The NOAA Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System (circulation model) predicts currents and other physical conditions in real-time and is the source for the simulations developed by Schwab.
- Through the NOAA Forecasting System, predictions of lake conditions can assist planners and managers in addressing critical issues such as navigation, search and rescue, and contaminant spill response in the Great Lakes.