In a letter on January 3, Cynthia Quarterman, head of the federal government’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, urged Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) to support the Line 5 pipeline across the Great Lakes. The proposed Line 5 pipeline would transport tar sands through the Straits of Mackinac to refineries, most of which are in surrounding states. However, doing so poses extreme environmental danger to the Great Lakes and surrounding areas. Gov. Rick Snyder (R–Mich.) should not allow tar sands to be transported across the Great Lakes and should oppose the Line 5 pipeline.
Quarterman’s letter stated that Enbridge Energy Partners, the operator of the pipeline in question, has made considerable improvements in safety standards. Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Stabenow initially requested information about the pipeline’s safety, expressing concern for the transportation of light crude oil under the lakes.
“We cannot afford to have a spill that could damage the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourism economy,” Stabenow said.
Despite Quarterman’s assurances, Enbridge has a history of failed pipelines, calling the company’s credibility into question. In 2010, the company’s pipeline in the Kalamazoo River burst, causing one of the largest on-land oil spills in history. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated more than a million gallons of oil were released in the spill, costing $765 million in cleanup expenses. The company’s unsuccessful history demonstrates insufficient attention to safety, making the federal government’s assurances untrustworthy.
Past failures of Enbridge’s pipelines reveal that the risks tar sand pipelines pose outweigh potential economic benefits. Crude oil in tar sands is much more volatile than other types of crude oil, making it extremely difficult to extract from sand, clay and bitumen. The process involves burning natural gas to generate steam for melting, and uses two to five barrels of water for every barrel of oil refined. The energy necessary to extract, separate and process from tar sands oil results in total greenhouse gas emissions three times that of conventionally produced oil. The entire process is extremely inefficient and ecologically damaging.
Furthermore, Snyder also faces intense scrutiny for his environmental record, and approval of the Enbridge pipeline would only worsen his rating. Michigan’s Sierra Club gave Snyder a failing grade for his environmental policy. According to Mike Berkowitz, legislative and political director of the club, “Nearly 80 percent of decisions made by Gov. Snyder in our scorecard contribute toward polluting our water, air, land and undermining public health and good government.” By rejecting Enbridge Energy’s Mackinac pipeline, Snyder would be working to strengthen protection of Michigan’s natural resources, potentially reversing a troubling trend of policies that sacrifice the environment for economic benefit.
Though Snyder has not made the protection of natural resources a top priority while in office, it is vital that he protect the Great Lakes from the potential spills caused by the pipeline. Snyder must oppose the transportation of tar sands oil across the Great Lakes in order to prevent Enbridge Energy from creating yet another environmental and financial disaster — one that Michigan can ill afford.