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Coast Guard to conduct freshwater oil spill study in Michigan to help protect the coast

Coast Guard to conduct freshwater oil spill study in Michigan to help protect the coast

A new military research agency will visit Michigan to examine the effects of oil spills in freshwater and develop strategies to respond to such a disaster.

After years of anticipation for the partnership between academic and government agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard will launch its National Center of Expertise for Great Lakes. One of the objectives is to develop response plans for the Great Lakes in the event of an oil spill emergency.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp., of the United States, called for this new research initiative because of concern about the aging, underwater section of Michigans Line 5 pipeline, which continually moves petrochemicals between Michigan's peninsulas through the dual lines resting on the bottomlands of a swift and swirling Strait of Mackinac.

The senator said federal hearings revealed the Coast Guards lack of readiness for an oil spill in the Great Lakes and how scientists know far less about how to clean up oil in freshwater environments than in saltwater. He said it prompted him to spearhead this new effort and secure $4.5 million to get things started.

That made me very concerned about a major oil spill in the Great Lakes, which is the source of drinking water for 40 million people and secluded recreational areas, and the fact that we dont have the tools to clean up the mess, Peters said.

The partnership will be between the Coast Guard and Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, as well as the National Occupation and Asmossphere Administration's Grand Lake Environmental Laboratory. The university will be the new centers headquarters, and researchers there will report to scientists at the NOAA lab.

Environmental groups applauded the new research programs goal and its Michigan home.

Dave Dempsey, senior policy advisor for Traverse City-based nonprofit For Love of Water, said it was ideal to have this facility located so close to the point at which the three Upper Great Lakes flow together and where there is an aging pipeline which has sparked great concern.

Its also appropriate to have it at an international level where cooperation and co-operation among governments will be essential for research, planning, and operations, he added.

Researchers will study and develop testing and cleanup equipment for freshwater environments as well as train first responders.

Most technologies to mitigate the effects of oil spills were actually developed for saltwater environments, according to the company. We've seen less progress on improving methods of containment and removal in freshwater and ice conditions, which actually differ in density, and water circulation patterns, as well as the ecosystems that are found in saltwater, according to Jennifer McKay, the policy director for nonprofit Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

And the study will have implications beyond the Great Lakes, according to Peters.

You have oil pipelines, oil tanker trucks, and railroad tankers all around the country, rivers, lakes, etc. There may be many instances, and there have been, when there've been spills in freshwater. We saw it with the Kalamazoo disaster in the Kaamozoo River, as well, according to Peters.

Whitney Gravelle, the chairperson of Bay Mills Indian Community, said the research center is great news, but it also highlights the present danger facing the Great Lakes.

While I am pleased that they are undertaking the work, I think it also highlights the current dangers we are in, which is that we dont have a proper response to oil spills in freshwater here in the Great Lakes, and yet we have an oil pipeline running through our waters in The Straits of Mackinac, she said.

LSSU President Rodney Hanley said the new initiative will provide hands-on teaching and learning for students and faculty in the universitys School of Natural Resources and Environment, as well as underwrite several research positions at the forthcoming $14 million Richard and Theresa Barch Center for Freshwater Research and Education facility.

Admiral Karl Schultz, USCG commandant, stated that the military agency is proud to partner in this effort to protect the world's largest fresh surface water system, while NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad stated it will enhance collaboration and promote real progress for a more prepared Great Lakes region.

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