After two years of pressing pipeline regulators to release inspection photos and videos of the 60-year-old Enbridge pipeline that carries tar sands oil through the Straits of Mackinac, the National Wildlife Federation took it upon themselves to inspect the pipeline.
Unfortunately, their footage is cause for concern and shows why this pipeline is one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes.
The footage shows pipelines suspended over the lakebed, some original supports broken away (indicating the presence of corrosion), and some sections of the suspended pipelines covered in large piles of unknown debris. This visual is evidence that our decision makers need to step in and demand a release of information from Enbridge and PHMSA.
Heightening our concern around this pipeline and the company that owns it: despite having cleared our dive work with the U.S. Coast Guard, several Congressional members, and Homeland Security, our staff and the dive crew had uncomfortable interactions with Enbridge representatives. As soon as our team set out on the water, we were quickly accompanied by an Enbridge crew that monitored our every move. This monitoring did not stop at the surface: Enbridge also placed a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) into the water to watch our team.
These actions and our video have raised our level of concern for the general operational behavior of this company and their overall safety culture—including the way they treat the concerned public living near their pipelines. If these aging pipelines rupture, the resulting oil slick would cause irreversible damage to fish and wildlife, drinking water, Lake Michigan beaches, Mackinac Island and our economy.
Enbridge is perhaps best known for their devastating tar sands oil spill on Michigan's Kalamazoo River. The 2010 spill was the largest in the Midwest and three years later they are still cleaning up the mess. Tar sands oil or dilbit (diluted bitumen) behaves differently in water than traditional crude. The chemical diluents that are mixed with the bitumen evaporate and the bitumen, which has the consistency of peanut butter, sinks to the bottom instead of floating on the surface like traditional crude oil.
If a pipeline rupture were to occur on the pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac, it would be a catastrophic disaster. Kudos to NWF for taking the initiative to capture this footage and show how the environment, drinking water and economy are at risk because of this aging infrastructure.