2016-04-21 / Viewpoint

Pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac is a ticking time bomb

Andrew Heller — Columnist

Flint and the Straits of Mackinac are 225 miles apart but one thing connects them in my mind: distrust.

I have it in spades. Probably we all do. Ever since the poisoning of Flint, I can’t bring myself to trust the state to protect us from anything, great or small, short term or long term.

I most assuredly don’t trust it to protect the Great Lakes, and so I side with the environmental groups that are pressuring the state to end a 63-year-old agreement that allows a company called Enbridge to pipe oil and propane gas under the Straits of Mackinac.

I had no idea Michigan allowed such a thing. I’ll bet you didn’t either.

I guess back in 1953 it didn’t seem like a big deal. But these days we’ve all seen what oil spills can do to the environment. The idea of a pipeline old enough to qualify for Social Security at the bottom of the Great Lakes is terrifying.

We could easily be the site of the next major ecological disaster. A new University of Michigan study if it happens says 700 miles of shoreline potentially could be turned to oily muck.

Enbridge, of course, calls that notion preposterous, but I don’t trust them either. I’ll bet Exxon never thought the Exxon-Valdez would run aground and turn the Alaskan shore into an inky nightmare either. And BP surely never suspected the Deepwater Horizon platform could ever explode and gush oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.

But it did.

So when an Enbridge spokesperson calls the concerns that it could happen in the Straits to a 63-year-old pipe “fear mongering,” my brain reacts like the robot used to in (prepare yourself for a positively ancient TV reference from my youth) “Lost in Space” when it sensed trouble: “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

There’s already plenty of evidence that we should be concerned. A 2013 inspection showed dents, weld cracks and pipeline wall thickness deficiencies. An MLive report said: “A 7-inch long spot of pipe — located on the land portion — found to have lost 26 percent of this wall thickness from corrosion when last inspected.” It also quoted a former senior scientist and consultant for Dow Chemical who said, “It appears about 200 sections of pipe did not meet original specifications.”

That’s all I need to hear. You have an old, old pipe that isn’t critical to the state’s economy carrying toxic chemicals beneath pristine waters at the confluence of two of the biggest fresh water lakes in the world.

To me it sounds like an economical disaster waiting to happen.

That pipe may never break or leak. But why take the risk? Better safe than really, really sorry.

It’d be a shame to have to rename ourselves “The Used to be Great Lakes State.”

Andrew Heller is an award-winning mid-Michigan columnist who writes a column monthly in the View Newspapers.

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