The Journal “Nature” has published a freely available mapping tool which lets the user track long-term changes in surface water distribution and levels. A link to the full mapping tool is accessible below. Developed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the program shows location and temporal distribution of water surfaces at the global scale over the last 32 years, along with associated data on extent and change.
It is near certain that an additional 760,000 barrels per day of oil will soon be flowing right through here – directly to the shores of Lake Superior.
If you are on the U.S. side of Lake Superior you might have missed it. On the Canadian side however, the recent announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to approve two pipelines and reject a third, was the leading news item for several days. Trudeau rejected the “Northern Gateway” project from Bruderheim, Alberta to the British Columbia coast at Kitimat. He then approved the “Trans Mountain” project from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.
Enbridge’s “Line 3” project from Hardisty, Alberta to Gretna, Manitoba, near the North Dakota – Minnesota State line was also approved. On the U.S. side, Line 3 will then continue across Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior, just across the St. Louis River estuary from Duluth, Minnesota.
Trudeau’s approval is for the Canadian side of the project. Proposed work on the U.S. side is still being considered by Minnesota but the pipeline has been much less controversial than other projects . The Line 3 project essentially involves replacing the existing, aging pipeline. The $7.5 billion project will be the largest in Enbridge’s history. The purpose of the refurbished pipeline is to contribute to overall U.S. mainline supply of 3 million barrels a day. Enbridge has scheduled Line 3 to be up and running by 2019.
Line 3 replacement does not mean oil will be shipped on the Great Lakes. At nearly double the capacity of the existing older line however, it does mean that 760,000 barrels of oil per day will arrive in the Lake Superior basin. This is in addition to any petroleum products already being shipped to the Lake Superior basin by rail, truck or other means. A plan by Superior Calument Refinery to construct a dock in Superior, Wisonsin for shipping oil across Superior was put on hold in 2013 when the company couldn’t find a partner for the project. Inbound petroleum products are already shipped across Lake Superior to the Thunder Bay Suncor liquid bulk handling facility on the lower Kaministiquia River.
On another front, TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline is proposed to run through the Lake Superior basin just north of Thunder Bay and then eastward across the Nipigon River, the largest river entering the Great Lakes. Plans call for the pipeline to be built from Alberta to “tidewater” in New Brunswick and to carry 1.1 million barrels of oil per day. The line is extremely controversial within Canada, some solidly in favour and some adamantly against. Financial analysts however, are betting that Energy East may not be built. This assumption is based on the fact that recent approval of the Trans-Mountain and Line 3 pipelines will already provide enough capacity to handle Canadian supply for a couple of decades. Also, with a change in government on the U.S. side, these same financial analysts are betting the Keystone Excel line will be quickly approved, thereby making Energy East redundant.
Factor into this the huge glut in world oil supply, in part due to production from the Bakken Field in North Dakota, forcing major world producers to cut back production as recently as this week. The downward sprial in oil prices over the last several years may make it difficult for TransCanada to justify Energy East’s $11.9 billion U.S. price tag.
Exactly five years ago on December 14th, 2011 the price of Brent Crude (the benchmark price on the world market) stood at $105.76 U.S. while West Texas Intermediate (the benchmark price on the North American market) stood at $95.49, a difference of $10.27. On December 14th, 2016, Brent stands at $54.89, while WTI stands at $51.95, a difference of $2.94. The price of oil is almost half of what it was five years ago. Not only that but the margin, or premium for getting oil to the world market has fallen by over 70%. This is a major concern given the billions to be spent to get oil to tidewater and the world market.
This is only the current situation and prices may rise, especially the differential between North American and world prices. Given the glut in supply however, such a change does not appear to be on the horizon. You don’t hear much about “peak oil” anymore.
Bottom line, despite a much increased awareness about oil use and all manner of positive initiatives to burn less of the substance, we’ll likely be using it for some time yet. “Big picture” moves like world price, North American price, Canadian approval of Trans-Mountain and potential U.S. approval of Keystone Excel are likely to affect the amount of oil flowing through the Lake Superior basin. Whichever side of the pipeline issue Lake Superior watershed residents come down on – we should be watching closely.
The largest environmental cleanup ever undertaken on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes was the topic of a presentation by Chris McLaughlin to the Public Advisory Committee of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan on November 30th at Lakehead University. Dr. McLauglin is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Harbour Bay Area Restoration Council. He spoke about the “Randle Reef” project, a $140 million cleanup in Hamilton Harbour to address chemical contamination from the steel industry and other sources. The in-person presentation audience was joined by livestream viewers through www.infosuperior.com/live.
Dr. McLaughlin’s presentation was instructive as the Public Advisory Committee seeks to find resolution for a large area of mercury contamination in the northern section of Thunder Bay’s own harbour, off the mouth of the Current River.
The following suggestions were made by Dr. McLaughlin and by participants in meeting discussion:
- Many organizations cooperated to effect Hamilton Harbour cleanup, among them the City of Hamilton and the Hamilton Port Authority. Reach out to similar organizations in Thunder Bay to explore ways in which support can be offered.
- Strive for a non-adversarial approach.
- Supporting organizations have varying capabilities and assests; they need to work within their own individual means and may have substantial experience, expertise and resources to contribute.
- Examine surrounding land uses as these lands may play a role in cleanup, depending upon which cleanup method is utilized. Potential efficiencies and obstacles need to be recognized well in advance.
- Reach out to surrounding landowners, they are the most directly impacted stakeholders in any cleanup process. Some of them may have operated in the area for a long time and have sound advice to offer. They may also be able to contribute resources, even if it is only to act as an equipment staging area.
- The new owners of “the shipyards” (Heddle Marine Services Inc.) have considerable marine engineering experience, as well as experience in other aquatic cleanup projects. They should be fully informed about the large area of contamination adjacent to their site and any opportunities to assist.
- Creosote contamination surrounding the former North Wood Preservers site had a name – “the blob” (cleanup of this site was completed in 2005). Give Thunder Bay North Harbour mercury contamination a name as well. It will raise the profile of this contaminated site within the public consciousness much more effectively than simply referring to the area as, “North Harbour.”
- Further, well-communicated information about toxicity and health affects would be helpful in dialogue with the general public.
- There are very few pictures or video clips of North Harbour contamination, such materials would be very useful in raising awareness of this contaminated site.
- North Harbour information on the Infosuperior site should be revised with up-to-date, accurate information, including extensive use of pictures and video clips.
- Much more information about North Harbour needs to be disseminated to the public on a frequent basis through a variety of formats from social media to traditional media like newspapers, television and radio.
- Innovative steps should be taken such as a boat tour to the site for the media and interested members of the public or members of organizations with a focus on the waterfront; a group could observe samples of the pulpy contaminated material being taken, if such work is happening.
- A meeting for fuller, more open discussion of the entire situation including surrounding land uses, presentations on toxicity and health effects, potential funding sources, disposal options and benefits of cleanup could lead to better understanding and effective solutions being proposed. It would also keep the North Harbour contamination issue in the public eye.
Work by a group of U.S. and Canadian researchers, most of them based on Lake Superior and including Environment and Climate Change Canada representation, is providing insight into a changing climate and effects upon the Great Lakes food web. The research is published in the latest edition of the journal, “Limnology and Oceanography” and points to an increase across all of the Great Lakes, including Superior, of the tiny algae called cyclotella. Several of the researchers are from the Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.
Researchers point out that this increase at the base of the food web is not concerning in and of itself but rather in relation to organisms up the food chain, like zooplankton, small fish that eat zooplankton and even large fish at the top of the food chain like lake trout.
The study links a rise in the presence of cyclotella to the rise in water temperature over the last decade or more and especially resulting termperature stratification. Temperature rise was initially noted through use of Lake Superior and Great Lakes data buoys.
Research was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Abstract and Article in the Limnology and Oceanography Journal – Climate Warming and Changes in Cyclotella Sensu lato in the Laurentian Great Lakes
Previous Post About Lake Baikal: “It Could Never Happen Here.”
Euan Reavie, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota
Gerald V. Sgro, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio
Lisa R. Estepp, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota
Andrew J. Bramburer, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota
Victoria L. Shaw Chraibi, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas
Robert W. Pillsbury, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, Wisconsin,
Meijun Kai, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota,
Craig A. Stow, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Alice Dove, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Burlington, Ontario, Canada
The Great Lakes Sustainability Fund (GLSF), administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada, is mandated to restore degraded Canadian Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Every year at this time The Fund solicits project proposals that will contribute to the completion of actions identified in Remedial Action Plans, or cleanup plans, for these Areas of Concern.
Funded projects restore benefits associated with a clean, well-functioning ecosystem, like swimming, fishing and ability to drink the water. Projects also assist in removing sites from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern.
Much of the watershed around Thunder Bay is included in this Area of Concern. Projects can include restoration, assessment or protection of water quality, fish or wildlife habitat. Current priorities for Thunder Bay include: water quality as it relates to recreational beaches, fish and wildlife habitat assessment and restoration. The Great Lakes Sustainability Fund does not support funding for capital or operating costs of municipal infrastructure or capital funding for land acquisition.
The Government of Canada encourages action toward the shared vision of a healthy, prosperous and sustainable Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem for present and future generations. The Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, a component of the Government of Canada’s Great Lakes Action Plan, helps to fulfill Canada’s commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the renewed Canada Ontario Agreement.
Projects linked below received GLSF funding as well as funding from other sources