Environment Picture

Protecting Michigan's Waters

Keeping oil out of the Great Lakes

Surrounded by the world’s greatest freshwater treasure, you can bet that protecting the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland waters will always be at the heart of MEC’s mission.

The Straits of Mackinac is a focal point of that work. There, just west of the iconic bridge linking our state’s two peninsulas, 23 million gallons of oil pass through the Great Lakes each day. The oil flows through twin pipelines, installed in 1953, that run along the lake bottom—part of the Canadian company Enbridge’s Line 5 from Wisconsin to Ontario.

Given its strong, erratic currents and importance to the state’s tourism economy, the straits would be “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” according to a report from the University of Michigan and the National Wildlife Federation. Further fueling concerns about the pipeline is the fact that Enbridge was the company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster—at one million gallons, the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

MEC is deeply engaged in this issue as part of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign, lending our policy expertise and relationships in Lansing to our partners’ community engagement and grassroots organizing work.

A chief goal of the campaign is to convince Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette they have the authority and duty to prevent a spill by applying the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, which was enacted after the straits pipelines were installed. Applying the law would require Enbridge to seek a permit for the pipelines, triggering a public proceeding to evaluate the risks they pose and determine whether they need repair, replacement or removal.

As awareness of this issue grew—thanks in large part to the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign—members of Congress, local business owners, community leaders and thousands of Michiganders joined our calls for action. In June 2014, Gov. Snyder created a state pipeline safety task force to look into the issue. We welcomed the creation of the task force, but were concerned that the public had little access to information about its proceedings.

We have worked to draw attention to Line 5 and make a clear and compelling case that this significant threat to our Great Lakes demands transparency, not closed-door meetings. Among other activities, we hosted and helped organize an October 2014 press event that created a fresh wave of media coverage; weighed in with an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press; and made our case directly to state leaders at the December 2014 meeting of the pipeline task force.

Preventing a spill in the Straits of Mackinac will remain an MEC priority until the threat has been fully dealt with.

Protecting water from toxic algae bloom
Another headline-grabbing Great Lakes story was the toxic algae bloom that left half a million Toledo-area residents without safe drinking water for four days in August 2014. The scope and public visibility of the crisis were unprecedented, but its root cause—nutrient pollution from large-scale agriculture, sewer overflows and other sources—was nothing new. Seizing the urgency created by the bloom, MEC met with Snyder administration officials and made our voice heard in the media, urging decision makers to enact the stronger protections we’ve been pushing for years.

Improving new fracking rules
Safeguarding our water against the threat of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, continues to be a focus of our water protection work. When the Department of Environmental Quality proposed fracking rules that didn’t go far enough to protect our water, MEC testified publicly, met behind the scenes with top regulators and made our case in the news. The final rules are imperfect, but they include crucial protections called for by MEC and allies. For instance, fracking operations now must disclose what chemicals they’ll use before they inject them into the ground—not 60 days later, as previous rules held. Drilling companies also are now subject to water withdrawal regulations, and must test local water quality before drilling so they can be held accountable if they cause contamination.

Cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks
At former gas stations and industrial facilities in nearly every Michigan community, underground storage tanks are leaking hazardous chemicals—often directly over drinking water aquifers. MEC has long worked toward expanding the storage tank cleanup program. Those efforts brought about a major success in 2014 when lawmakers approved a new program to help facility owners finance repairs on leaking tanks. Our consistent calls for action also yielded a new focus by state officials on sorting through the 8,000 leaking underground storage tanks on “orphan sites”—where the owner can’t pay or has abandoned the site—to prioritize them for cleanup.
Related News Topics

Select a news topic to view all related news stories. Use the search function to look for any unlisted topic and its related stories.

Great Lakes, Water Protection

© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved