Floating Tar Sands on the Great Lakes Seems Like a Bad Idea...
Posted January 29, 2013
As our energy landscape is undergoing rapid changes in this country, our infrastructure is playing catchup. For example, there is news out of Wisconsin that operators of a refinery in Superior are considering the construction of a facility in Lake Superior to ship crude oil via tanker in the Great Lakes. Details are sketchy at this point: it is not clear how much oil we are talking about and where it would be shipped. It is clear that some of that oil would be tar sands. And a quick news scan of Monday's headlines reinforces what a bad idea wide-spread oil tanker traffic would be in the system that represents 1/5 of the world’s freshwater:
- Nearby in Michigan, Inside Climate reports that Enbridge is refusing to undertake some of the dredging that has been mandated to clean up their 2010 pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. That disaster stands as the biggest and most expensive inland spill in our history. The uniquely ugly impacts of a tar sand spill in water have been clearly on display as the sunken bitumen on the river bottom continues to be cleaned up 2.5 years later.
- A little further west, 80,000 gallons of oil were just spilled into the Mississippi River over the weekend when a barge hit a bridge. (Update: The Coast Guard is now estimating the spill at 7,000 gallons.)
Look, you can’t even run ships in the Great Lakes all year long due to ice---interestingly, that is part of the genesis of the refinery in Superior. But there are real questions about whether this is something we should be doing at all. The region is already served by a rickety, problematic pipeline network that has sprung leaks a lot of late. Why would we augment that with an even more dangerous new petroleum movement system that would stand as a threat to the source of drinking water and economic vitality for millions? Sure, we float all manner of cargo through the Lakes and some areas of the region are seemingly hopelessly polluted---but that does not strike me as a reasonable argument to open another line of risk with something that has as bad a track record as bitumen.
If you need a reminder of what a tar sands spill in Michigan looked like, here are some eye witnesses:
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