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Partial government shutdown affects monitoring of conditions in the Great Lakes

Oil booms placed near shore during spill response drill in the Straits of Mackinac.
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
Oil booms placed near shore during spill response drill in the Straits of Mackinac.

The partial government shutdown has closed programs that monitor conditions in the Great Lakes. 

Eric Anderson is with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Anderson, who has been furloughed without pay, says normally, the laboratory runs a computer modeling program 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which monitors ice conditions and the movement of the swift currents in the Straits of Mackinac.

The data would be used by the Coast Guard and others in the event of a spill from Enbridge Energy's Line 5 pipeline, which runs under the Straits.   

Anderson says emergency responders will need to know "which way the oil is going, what areas might need to be protected in the event of a spill, where to place oil booms, where to stage boats and equipment...."

Enbridge Energy spokesman Ryan Duffy says in the event of a spill - an extremely unlikely occurence, according to the company - it would be able to use real-time monitoring data, as well as data from private companies which have computer modeling programs similar to NOAA's.

But Anderson says that data would be more limited -- as far as he is aware, it would not provide any information about how ice might affect the direction of oil spills - and it would not be immediately available.  

That would mean emergency responders would lose valuable time getting the spill contained.

Anderson says the shutdown has also delayed the development of a program that will be better at predicting lake effect snowfalls.    

Prior to the shutdown, researchers thought the new program would be available next winter.  Now, it may not be ready for two years, since researchers have missed weeks of necessary weather data due to the shutdown.

Note:  Enbridge Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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