CMU Researchers Examining What Would Happen if Line 5 Oil Spills Into Great Lakes

Line 5 carries oil under the water, through the Straits of Mackinac, and while that concerns many people, there is one group preparing for a spill.

“Any issue or impact that could take place in the Great Lakes, we need to address it, we need to be best prepared to deal with it,” said Dr. Don Uzarski, Director of the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research.

Researchers with Central Michigan University are at their Biological Research Station on Beaver Island working to understand what would happen if there were an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

“We’re essentially sampling sediments in all of these areas to look at the microbial community that exists there and determine its ability to degrade hydrocarbons, or break down this oil,” Dr. Uzarski said, who is also Director of the Biological Research Station and professor of Biology at CMU.

They are using Enbridge’s own oil and have collected water samples from beaches, wet lands and deep water areas.

To get the deep water samples, researchers use their Chippewa boat to release a multi-coring device deep into the Great Lakes that pull up four different core samples.

With these samples collected, researchers then work to recreate those environments in each of these bins in their research station.

“Then we’re looking at can we add something, can we give those microbes nutrients or something else to jump start them to really do their job quickly,” Dr. Uzarski said.

These samples see how things progress naturally, how they react to the oil, and how they react to the oil when things like nutrients are added.

“You’d like to be comfortable knowing that we have a pretty good idea what would happen if there were an accident and what would we do in response to it,” said Dr. Deric Learman, professor of Biology at CMU and a member of the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research. “We are going to try to understand some areas that just never have been known, to try to push the envelope of science forward.”

The research is just starting, and is expected to end in September, with the final results out sometime this winter.