‘Ticking-Time Bomb’: MotherBoard doc explores aging oil pipeline in the Great Lakes

A short documentary by MotherBoard called “The Dirty Secret at the Bottom of the Great Lakes: Oil and Water”, released in August 2015, explores anxiety over an aging oil pipeline in the Great Lakes. It is said to be a “ticking time bomb” by a National Wildlife Federation rep in the video.

Over 60 years old, the oil pipeline in question is Enbridge’s Line 5, which lies in the Mackinac Strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In the doc, filmmaker Spencer Chumbly details the history of oil spills in the Great Lakes regions and speaks with advocates, agencies, researchers, and oil reps to delve deeper into the concerns surrounding the pipeline’s age and condition.

Ph.D research scientist Dave Schwab from University of Michigan Ann Arbor created a computer simulated projection of how a break in the pipeline would affect the strait and lakes, seen here:

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.41.53 AM

In the doc, he suggests to Spencer that the amount of water going through the strait at any given time is more than ten times what goes over Niagara Falls. He also projects that a best case scenario spill here would result in 1.5 million gallons.

Spencer speaks to one of the only remaining people alive who worked on the project, engineer Bruce Trudgen. Trudgen says the pipeline was only supposed to last 50 years, but that Enbridge continues to use it. He speculates that lack of proper supports and corrosion could mean major problems for the pipeline.

The documentary shows some footage from the National Wildlife Federation, and advocates for pipeline safety, who completed their own dive to assess the pipeline’s condition. Enbridge watched them as they did so. The 2013 footage showed some sections of pipeline completely unsupported, and some sections covered in debris. It is stated that Enbridge has put in 40 supports since.

Enbridge public relations rep Jason Manshum insists to Spencer and MotherBoard that the pipeline is routinely monitored and maintained. He also says that reports from outside organizations on the pipeline are “misleading” and “inaccurate.”

Using Enbridge’s own statistics and data, the documentary shows a map of major oil spills in the Great Lakes Region between 1999 and 2010.Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 11.28.08 AM

Ultimately, Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation states that the pipeline is an ongoing concern for Great Lakes residents. He reports that the decision to replace or remove the line is left solely to Enbridge – that no state or federal risk parameters exist, despite a lengthy inquiry in 2014 by the Michigan Pipeline Task Force into the matter.

View the full video documentary here, on youtube. It runs 17 minutes.


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