Line 5 Researchers Present Worst Case Scenario Oil Spill Data to Public

Their research will inform the state's decision about the future of the Line 5 pipeline

An independent risk analysis says a Line 5 spill could cost $2 billion to clean up.

Monday night, researchers behind that study presented their findings to the public and answered their questions at a public feedback session in Harbor Springs.

The Line 5 pipeline carries crude oil and natural gas from Wisconsin to Canada and passes through the Straits of Mackinac.

While Enbridge says Line 5 is safe — and they’re taking steps to make it safer — scientists say if a spill happens, it could greatly damage the environment.

The pipeline’s walls are about an inch thick. Earlier this year, an anchor strike dented the pipeline by just under three-quarters of an inch, prompting calls to shut it down.

The risk analysis completed by 41 Great Lakes scientists and lead by Michigan Technological University, looked at as many combinations of variables as possible to determine the extent of damage an oil spill would have.

They analyzed wind, temperature and weather patterns and used data from 2016 to simulate the effect a spill would have – economically and environmentally. The season is a key factor in determining the extent of damage a spill could have.

From an environmental aspect, a winter spill would be a tougher cleanup. If a leak happened in the summer, the touristic, recreational and overall economic impact would be much greater. A summer spill could mean a $459 million loss in tourism.

Bottom line, if Line 5 leaked it could affect up to 400 miles of shoreline and could cost billions to clear out. The study also analyzed health effects of an oil spill. A spill could result in oil particulates in the air and could become carcinogenic for residents near the Straits. It could also cause what researchers called “psychological stresses”.

“Our goal was to analyze a worst case scenario for a spill in the Straits and where that oil would be transferred,” said Dr. Guy Meadows, a researcher from Michigan Technological University. “There’s a variety of worst cases so what we tried to do is accumulate those and assess the total impact and the resulting costs across these specters.”

Enbridge, who operates Line 5, says the likelihood of a spill is low. They also said that the study did not consider the probability of a spill.

In a statement, they said the following:

“While Line 5 continues to operate safely, and there never has been a release in the straits since it was installed, the state and Enbridge are working on new safeguards to enhance pipeline safety.”

The findings of the research is a rough draft of a report that will be submitted to the state in September. The comments from Monday’s feedback session will help complete the final draft. The state is expected to make a decision on Line 5’s fate this fall.