Listen to your mother.
For many of us, our mothers are fountains of sound advice, the thoughtful, wise guidance that acts as a compass throughout our lives.
Mother Nature is no less wise or direct, and her guidance no less important. Except in her case, Mother Nature’s statements often are directions, not suggestions. They’re written in wind, waves, rain and clouds. And not heeding her guidance often ends in disaster.
That’s why last week’s news from the Straits of Mackinac was at once unsurprising and alarming.
Officials with Michigan’s department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy told reporters they were taken aback by the scene workers found during recent efforts to remove debris left behind on the lakebed by a summertime core sampling work by Enbridge Energy.
The company used a remotely-operated vehicle last weekend to retrieve a 45-foot-long section of steel rod it dropped during earlier work to drill core samples from the bedrock beneath the Straits.
The previous work was part of Enbridge’s effort to construct a tunnel beneath the Straits to house its proposed new Line 5 pipeline.
The retrieval effort didn’t find a leak in the 66-year-old, twin Line 5 oil pipelines — most people’s biggest fear.
No, instead it found an explicit statement from Mother Nature, a not-so-subtle piece of advice: stop underestimating the power of nature.
Joseph Haas, a district supervisor for EGLE, in an interview last week with Interlochen Public Radio’s Kaye LaFond, explained why officials previously didn’t think removing the debris was an urgent matter, but think differently now.
“We just didn’t see it as a real urgency that it get out of there in an instantaneous or super-urgent manner,” he told LaFond. “In hindsight, (Enbridge) reported upon removal that that rod had migrated 150 feet and was leaning against the west leg of the pipeline. I don’t think anybody expected that such a low-profile, heavy, probably 250 pound piece of steel would have migrated 150 feet.”
We probably shouldn’t be surprised at the overwhelming power of the Great Lakes, especially in an area where currents are notoriously strong. Such clear evidence also lends credence to an independent technical report authored in 2017 by retired Dow Chemical engineer Ed Timm. In his analysis, Timm supposed that bends in the twin Line 5 pipes, and long unsupported spans could be attributed to the force of strong currents that sweep through the lakebed where it pinches between the peninsulas.
Timm’s assertions triggered nods of agreement from just about anybody grounded in common sense, but were challenged by Enbridge officials.
In hindsight, it’s pretty clear Timm was onto something.
Worse, last week’s surprise is an alarming underestimation by the people in charge of overseeing the safety and integrity of an oil pipeline that flows 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids through our lakes each day.
Hindsight is not a view we find acceptable when it comes to a potential oil disaster in the lakes that provide for so many of us.
We have long urged state regulators, the governor included, to set a date by which oil must stop flowing through the retirement-age pipes situated on our lakebed. So far, they have failed to heed our advice, our pleas to make moves that will head off catastrophe.
Maybe this time they will listen to their mother.