Group warns against shipping oil on Great Lakes
The Alliance for the Great Lakes on Wednesday released a report warning against increased shipment of petroleum products on the lakes, most notably a plan to ship oil by tanker out of Superior.
The environmental group’s report said neither U.S. nor Canadian shipping fleets or ports are designed for large-scale transport of crude oil, and said neither government’s regulatory system is prepared to deal with moving oil across the big lakes.
It highlighted the difference between western Canadian “tar sands” oil, which probably would be one type of oil shipped out of Superior, noting it is “dirtier and heavier” than normal crude oil and may not be controlled by traditional oil-spill methods.
“Indeed the manner in which tar sands are extracted, coupled with their composition in transit, present dual risks to the environment. Tar sands crude is heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay and other hydrocarbon mixtures,” the report said, adding that “the physical makeup of tar sands crude creates a heavy substance that, during a spill, can sink to the riverbed or lake bed rather than float on the water.
The resulting, disturbing characteristic of ‘tar crude’ is that it is extremely difficult, potentially even impossible, to completely remove from the water after a spill.”
The alliance highlighted the July 2010 Enbridge Energy pipeline spill of 900,000 gallons of western Canadian oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. The report claims that after $1 billion has been spent on the cleanup, the river still is adversely affected by oil that sank to the bottom of the river.
“Responding to a spill of that magnitude in the deep waters of the Great Lakes would be even more difficult,” the report said.
Supporters of the proposed Superior oil terminal project note that oil and gas have been shipped for more than a century on the big lakes without catastrophic problems.
Indiana-based Calumet Special Products LP, which owns Wisconsin’s only oil refinery in Superior, in January announced plans for a possible $30 million terminal in Superior, where western oil from pipelines would be transferred onto Great Lakes tankers and barges to move east. The terminal would help alleviate a bottleneck, with more oil being pumped than there is capacity to move it to market.
On Monday, a Calumet official told the News Tribune the company continues to pursue state and federal permits for the project. Once those permits are approved, the company plans to shop the project to potential partners, namely eastern Great Lakes or East Coast oil refineries that want access to plentiful North Dakota and western Canadian oil that’s considerably cheaper than oil from overseas.
There are 19 refineries on the eastern Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, the alliance report noted.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a public meeting from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Superior Public Library on one part of the oil terminal project — major repairs to the dock where the terminal would be located.
The alliance suggested several policy changes needed before oil could be safely shipped on the lakes, including:
- U.S. and Canadian governments must notify one another of plans to allow increased tar sands crude shipments on the lakes and ensure adequate oversight, in keeping with terms of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
- U.S. must improve coordination among federal agencies involved in large-scale spill prevention and response, with special emphasis on tar sands crude and other “submerged” oil spills.
- Congress should increase funding for prevention, preparedness and response programs in four priority spill categories: vessel-based, facility-based, cold-weather and pipeline spills.
- Great Lakes states should expand and enhance state laws to prevent and better-protect their shorelines from oil-shipping spills.
- The oil industry and shippers should improve safety and maintain spill-prevention and response equipment, and provide financial support to efforts aimed at making spill-prevention and response information publicly available.