A number of residents from the area will take part in the annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk Monday. Providing the weather cooperates, the view from the bridge of the Straits will be stunning as always.
And, as beautiful as that view is, all of us want to ensure it remains that way forever.
Toward that end this year environmentalists of "Oil and Water Don't Mix" also will be at the bridge Monday to educate residents on twin oil pipelines that run under the water below the bridge, linking the two peninsulas. The lines are owned by Enbridge Energy Partners LP, and carry about 23 million gallons of oil each day.
In July Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant informed Enbridge officials that the pipeline did not comply with state regulations and Enbridge would have to install additional anchors to support the pipeline.
"We will insist that Enbridge fully comply with the conditions of the Straits Pipeline Easement to protect our precious environmental and economic resources and limit the risk of disaster threatening our waters," Schuette said at the time.
Enbridge officials indicated they will fully comply with the state's request.
I'm certain you and I appreciate that attitude, especially following a report from the University of Michigan in July that found should a spill occur in the Straits, its impact would be disastrous. Not only would Mackinac Island be severely affected by the spill, but oil would initially flow as far south as Rogers City in Lake Huron. Watching a time lapse model researchers did of a potential spill based on the flow of currents, it is frightening to view how much water would be impacted and the extent of damage that would occur.
The pipeline was laid in 1953 and as company officials are quick to point out, has been incident-free ever since. While that is true, it doesn't provide much insurance, or assurance, that such a record can continue forever. If anything, given the age of the pipeline, it raises more questions such as those of Schuette and Wyant this summer as pipes do tend to corrode over time and this pipe never has been replaced.
Michael Murray, a scientist with the Great Lakes Regional Center, said in a paper issued by the National Wildlife Federation two years ago that "an oil leak at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac would raise as many questions about potential impacts to fish and other aquatic life as we had after the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are still learning about impacts from that spill over two years later. With these pipelines on the bottom of the Straits, the combination of heavier oil, colder temperatures and complex currents would cause extraordinary clean-up challenges."
We all make use of the oil that Enbridge and others run through pipelines across the country. Few of us would argue against their need. That being said, most of us also would acknowledge the importance of clean water and protection of our state's natural resources, particularly the Great Lakes.
Ultimately we need to ensure the balance between both is preserved and in this instance, the risk to our water is minimized.
I urge Embridge officials to not only comply with the additional anchors, but to consider replacing both lines with new pipeline as well.