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Study pegs potential economic cost of Mackinac Straits oil spill at $45 billion

Enbridge Energy

A new study predicts a major potential economic effect of an oil spill in the Mackinac Straitsto the entire Great Lakes region.

The Line 5 oil pipelinewhich crosses the Mackinac Straits is operated by Enbridge Energy.  

The study relies on a recent report conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security to justify federal expenditures on a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie. The report quantifies the impact of a shutdown of the only existing Soo Lock that provides passage to the largest commercial cargo vessels.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, closing the Poe Lock could send North America into prolonged recession and precipitate the loss of more than 10 million U.S. jobs.

Robert Richardson is an ecological economist at Michigan State University. He says a major oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline would likely disrupt shipping and the steel industry in the Great Lakes.

He says such a disruption could cost $45 billion in loss of gross national product in just 15 days.

“You wouldn’t catch up on it,” says Richardson. “The shipping season is limited to a certain period of time during the year. And if a spill were to occur during that time, the economic impact would be lost for that season.”

The study was commissioned by the group For Love of Water (FLOW). FLOW isa critic of Line 5.

A previous FLOW-commissioned study pegged the cost of an oil spill in the Straits at $6 billion, largely to Michigan’s tourism industry. 

The future of Enbridge’s Line 5 remains a hot topic in Lansing.

Republican legislative leaders are considering a plan to encase Line 5 in a tunnel.

Incoming Democratic officials have voiced support for shutting the pipeline down.

Editor's note: Enbridge is one of Michigan Radio's sponsors.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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