for Great Lakes worry environmentalists
Monday, July 8, 2002
By Sarah Kellogg
In the last year, four
lines have been proposed or approved that would transmit
electricity or pump natural gas across lakes Superior
More than 20 shorter
pipelines are resting on the bottomlands of the lakes
or rivers connecting the lakes. Four pipelines -- two
for oil or liquid gas and two for natural gas -- cross
the Straits of Mackinac.
to build more and longer pipelines on the Great Lakes
have members of Congress and environmentalists worried.
"We do see this as an
emerging trend," said Jennifer Nalbone, a spokeswoman
for Great Lakes United, a regional environmental group.
"Utility companies don't see the Great Lakes basin as
an obstacle to go around anymore. We don't think we want
to see the lakes being turned into a thoroughfare."
This week, members of
the Great Lakes Task Force, a working group of members
of Congress from the region, will ask their colleagues
to approve a plan to study the long-term environmental
impact of locating pipelines under or on the beds of the
Earlier this year, Michigan
Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, attached the environmental
study proposal to the president's energy bill, which is
pending in a House-Senate conference committee and is
expected to come up for vote in the next month.
"It is obvious that
energy transmission infrastructure is important, but it
is critical that we understand the impacts of placing
this infrastructure across the lake beds," Levin said.
"It is also imperative that we develop a long-term strategy
for their placement."
Michigan is at the heart
of this debate not just because it rests at the center
of the Great Lakes but also because many of the pipelines
in Great Lakes waters run from its shorelines.
Along with the Mackinac
pipelines, Michigan has two natural gas lines crossing
the Saint Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie; seven pipelines
-- five natural gas and two crude oil -- crossing the
St. Claire River at Port Huron; and two pipelines -- one
natural gas and one liquefied petroleum gas -- running
through the Detroit River in Detroit.
Natural gas pipelines
also run from wells in lakes Erie and Ontario.
Michigan officials say
they believe the existing pipelines are safe vehicles
for transporting natural gas and crude oil.
"On a daily basis, I
don't think they're much to worry about," said Ken Silfven,
a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental
But Silfven said the
state would be especially interested in reviewing any
plans for large-scale pipelines that cross greater distances.
"Depending on the project,
we would look at an oil pipeline with a little bit more
of a critical eye," Silfven said. "That's not to say the
existing ones are dangerous or you shouldn't build new
That's where the state
and environmentalists diverge.
"We're getting into
lines that are lines of convenience more than they are
lines of necessity," said James Clift, policy director
for the Michigan Environmental Council, a state environmental
group. "It comes down to the fact they don't want to go
through the hassle of going along the shoreline or going
through private property. It's easier to go through the
Industry officials say
it isn't easier at all, especially given the hoops they
jump through to ensure the projects are safe for the public
and the environment. Great Lakes pipelines go through
an extensive review process and must be approved by local,
state, federal and international agencies before they
can even begin construction.
"This is a complex process
that involves a great deal of review," said Terry Boss,
vice president of environments and safety for the Interstate
Natural Gas Association, which represents gas transmission
Boss said that the public
may not realize how common a process it is to lay pipelines
across both small and large bodies of water.
"We have been building
pipelines underneath rivers, lakes and the ocean for many,
many years," said Boss. "The Gulf of Mexico has a significant
number of pipelines."
And that's why environmentalists
are concerned. The four proposed pipelines or energy transmission
lines for the Great Lakes could be the tip of the iceberg,
The Millennium Pipeline
is closest to reality. It would send natural gas 93.4
miles across Lake Erie between New York and Canada. The
pipeline has been approved in the United States, although
an appeal is pending before the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Another proposal would
lay three electric transmission lines along a 90-mile
trench in Lake Erie, connecting Canada to three sites
in Ohio and Pennsylvania. A third proposal would lay transmission
cables from Thunder Bay, Ontario, through Lake Superior
to Isle Royale, then on to the Keweenaw Peninsula. The
final proposal would run a shorter natural gas pipeline
under Lake Erie between Buffalo and Ontario.
"There is a great need
for energy and to keep the lights on," Nalbone said. "But
communities don't want these lines going across the lakes.
It's a risk they're not willing to take."