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Enbridge's Great Lakes Pipeline Has Spilled 1 Million Gallons Since 1968

Enbridge Energy Partners' aging Line 5 pipeline, which runs through the heart of the Great Lakes, has spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in at least 29 incidents since 1968, according to data from the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration obtained by the National Wildlife Federation.

Built in 1953, the 645-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline carries petroleum to eastern Canada via the Great Lakes states. As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Line 5 splits into twin 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines.

Line 5 opponents fear that a spill in the Great Lakes, which contains 21 percent of the world's surface fresh water, would be an ecological disaster. Notably, the straits' strong currents reverse direction every few days and a spill would quickly contaminate shoreline communities miles away.

Enbridge is behind a number of major spills, most notoriously in 2010 when an Enbridge line spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—creating the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

"We have a pipeline system with a history of problems running through our country's largest source of surface freshwater, and it happens to be operated by the company responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in North America," said Mike Shriberg, executive director for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center.

"This pipeline system places the Great Lakes and many local communities at an unacceptable risk. The state of Michigan needs to find an alternative to this risky pipeline to protect our drinking water, health, jobs and way of life."

The National Wildlife Federation has released a new interactive map showing what has spilled from Enbridge's pipeline system, the repair methods that have been used, and how leaks and defects are being discovered.

The conservation organization noticed from the records that only one of the 29 recorded incidents was detected by a remote pipeline detection system. By contrast, 15 releases were detected by local personnel or the public.

"This new information causes us grave concern about the integrity of the inland pipe system, inconsistencies with spill reporting, and the effectiveness of leak detection systems, repair methods, and long-term planning for the integrity of the decades-old pipeline system," said Beth Wallace, the National Wildlife Federation pipeline safety specialist who discovered the newly released data.

Wallace added, "a significant number of these releases note manufacturing and construction defects, as well as weld failure, which calls into question the overall integrity of the Line 5 system."

Last September, Enbridge filed a work plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 18 "holidays" on Line 5—an oil and gas industry term that refers to areas on a pipeline where anti-corrosive coating is missing. However, Enbridge's director of integrity programs Kurt Baraniecki said at a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board meeting last month that the report used imprecise language.

Enbridge has dismissed the National Wildlife Federation's findings.

"This is not new information and we have addressed this issue many times in the past," company spokesperson Ryan Duffy said via email to MLive. "Over the past fifteen years, there have been three incidents on Line 5 that have resulted in a total of approximately 21 barrels of product being released off the mainline. All of the product released during these three incidents was recovered. There has never been an incident on Line 5 at the Straits."

Still, as InsideClimate News reported, Line 5 is facing mounting political pressure. In January, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin voted not to renew easements that allowed the pipeline to pass through tribal lands. Also in January, U.S. Reps. Dave Trott (R-Mich) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) introduced legislation calling for a shutdown of the pipeline if a federal study determines it poses significant threat to the Great Lakes.

Enbridge is not the only pipeline company facing opposition over fears of contamination. On Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations launched a new campaign to challenge Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) operations.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the under-construction Rover Pipeline, which just spilled 2 million of gallons of drilling fluids into two of Ohio's wetlands on April 22.

The coalition has fired off an open letter to the company outlining their grievances and demands. The group has also launched the website StopETP.org as an online hub for the campaign.

ETP is expected to vote to merge with Sunoco Logistics on Wednesday.

"Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics have a damning history of pipeline fires, leaks, and spills, causing millions of dollars in property damage and leaving thousands of gallons of hazardous products in the environment," said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the participating organizations. "These incidents demonstrate a blatant disregard for the communities and waterways impacted by these pipelines."

Lena Moffitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said momentum has been building across the nation.

"From Standing Rock, to Texas, to Ohio, to towns across the country, people are mobilizing against Energy Transfer Partners and its reckless agenda that has threatened our communities, our clean air and water, and our climate," Moffitt said. "We the people are organized, we are determined, and together, we will stop Energy Transfer Partners' dirty and dangerous plans."

Trump's 100 Days of Harm: Enough Is Enough

Like any arbitrary benchmark, the 100-day point of a new president's term normally tells us only so much about what's to come. In the case of President Trump's all-out assault on our environment and health, however, we've already seen more than enough.

In his first three months on the job, Trump has acted again and again to undo half a century of bipartisan progress in protecting our rights to clean water, air and lands. He's moved to part ways with longstanding American values of conservation in the public interest. And he's betrayed the covenant we've forged with our children to leave them a livable world.

That's not a plan to put America first. It's about putting industrial polluter profits first―and putting the rest of us at risk.

Presidents don't get to roll back generations of hard-won gains with the stroke of a pen. Working with his fellow Republicans in Congress, Trump has already killed rules to protect coal communities from mountaintop demolition that destroys forests and streams. And he may expose more public lands to the ravages of coal mining.

Much of what he's ordered, though, can be halted, slowed or turned back around―in the court of public opinion or in a court of law. To do that, we'll have to stand together and give real voice to truth against a president intent on using the full powers of his high office to try to eliminate the tools we need to protect our families and communities from ongoing harm.

From his first week in office, Trump and congressional Republicans have attacked the commonsense safeguards we all depend on to protect the water we drink, the air we breathe, the lands that grow our food and the wild places we share. He's put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the thumb of Scott Pruitt, an avowed foe of the agency's mission, while proposing to gut the EPA budget and staff.

He's taken on the very notion of responsible public oversight with an unlawful and baseless order to scrap two existing regulations for every new one put in place―as though we can cope with emerging threats only if we pretend the old ones no longer exist.

And he's sounded an ignominious retreat from the essential progress we're making in the fight against global climate change.

Any one of these tacks would be cause for national alarm and public rebuke. Taken as a whole, the Trump broadside attack on the nation's environment and health demands the united and concerted opposition of every American, from red state and blue, who cares about our common future.

Whatever our political leanings, we all should be shocked at this radical campaign to roll back environmental safeguards, abandon important national goals and hobble our environmental steward, the EPA. Trump's reckless attempts to do just that run wildly at odds with the will of the people, as a raft of recent polling proves.

A solid 61 percent of the country disapproves of Trump's big polluter agenda, an April poll by Quinnipiac University found. Just 19 percent want the EPA weakened or eliminated, according to a January Reuters poll, with 61 percent saying the agency should be strengthened, expanded or kept at its current strength. Trump, though, has proposed slashing the agency's budget by 31 percent, taking it back to 1990 funding levels and cutting staff by 20 percent.

In one policy area after another, in fact, the disparity between Trump's actions and public opinion is striking:

Protecting Our Waterways

  • Drinking Water: Nationally, fears over water pollution hit a 16-year high in March, with 63 percent of Americans telling the Gallup polling organization they worry "a great deal" about drinking water pollution. Who could blame them? Trump has directed Pruitt to dismantle the Clean Water Rule, put in place to protect wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans.
  • Great Lakes: Trump's cuts would end federal funding to reduce industrial and municipal waste, toxic contaminants and other pollution in the Great Lakes, the largest surface freshwater ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Who's with Trump on that one? Not the people who understand it the most. In Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and nearby states, 86 percent of the public supports the federal effort to clean up the Great Lakes.
  • Chesapeake Bay: Trump has proposed killing, also, a multi-state plan to clean up the nation's largest natural estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, which is being strangled by the toxic runoff from a 64,000-square-mile watershed that reaches nearly to Canada. That flies directly against the interests of those who live at the mouth of the bay: 94 percent of Virginians support the federal bay cleanup program, according to an April poll by Christopher Newport University.

Energy Development

  • Dirty Energy: Fully 59 percent of survey respondents say environmental protection should come ahead of fossil fuel development, with just 23 percent preferring dirty energy to clean water and air. The 26-point gap between the two, by the way, is the largest margin since Gallup began asking the question 15 years ago.

Fuel Economy

Trump has directed the EPA to weaken or eliminate standards to clean up the cars and dirty power plants that together account for 60 percent of the U.S. carbon pollution that's driving global climate change. That's a stone-cold loser in the public mind. Drivers like saving billions of dollars a year at the pump, and an April poll by Quinnipiac found that 76 percent of the public is "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" about climate change, with 62 percent saying Trump should not backtrack on standards and rules put in place to fight it.

Climate

  • Climate Action: Far from supporting Trump's retreat from the climate fight, 59 percent of poll respondents say the country needs to be doing even more to fight the carbon pollution that's causing seas to rise, turning croplands to deserts, and contributing to raging wildfires, flooding, droughts and storms.
  • Jobs: Fully 68 percent of Americans understand that we can fight climate change and support economic growth, like the gains that have put three million Americans to work helping us to become more efficient, building all-electric and hybrid cars and getting more clean power from the wind and sun.
  • Research: The Quinnipiac poll found that 72 percent of Americans say it's a "bad idea" for Trump to slash funding for the scientific research we need to better understand climate change and other threats to our environment.

A hundred days into Trump's presidency, we've already seen more than enough. It's time to gather as one and speak out against his senseless campaign to turn back the clock on 50 years of environmental gains and stanch the promise of more progress to come.

On Saturday, April 29, I'll travel, along with thousands of others, to Washington, DC, to march with the People's Climate Movement. I hope you'll join us, in the nation's capital or in any of dozens of sister marches across the country, to show Trump just how far out of step his policies are with the will of the people he serves.

Let's put Donald Trump on notice. Let's show him what we believe. We won't back down from this challenge. We won't back down from this fight. We'll defend our health and environment. We'll hold fast to the values we share. We'll stand up for our children's future and their right to a livable world.

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Fracking

Widely-Opposed Pipeline 'Confirms Worst Fears' After Two Spills Into Ohio Wetlands

Energy Transfer Partners' new Rover Pipeline has spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio's wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project only began last month.

According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline's installation.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline's construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.

Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project's in-service date.

"Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved," she said.

Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline's construction.

"Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation," said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.

"We've always said that it's never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.

"Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer's total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted."

Chicago from the air over Lake Michigan. Photo credit: OZinOH via Flickr

Trump vs. Chicago: Will the EPA Close Its Region 5 Office?

By Henry Henderson

President Trump clearly doesn't like Chicago. He takes a swipe at the city every chance he gets. But the latest salvo in his war on Chicago is likely to impact a lot more than just the Second City.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed had an item summarizing a rumor we have been hearing a lot of lately: that beyond the massive cuts already in store for critical protections of clean air, water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there may be a plan afoot to close the agency's Region 5 office in Chicago and merge it with operations in Kansas City.

The administration denies that there is a plan in place … sort of … calling press reports unsubstantiated rumor, but admitting that they may merge some offices.

But even in this world of #FakeNews, sometimes rumors aren't just coming out of nowhere. In this case, leaked EPA budget documents include some salient passages (bold formatting is mine) that imply this move is already indeed under consideration:

"Funding levels incorporate rent cost avoidance from several regional and headquarters offices Potomac Yards North, Region 1, Region 5, and Region 9), the decommissioning of part of the Las Vegas laboratory, and the release of the headquarters warehouse in Washington, DC.

Workforce:

The budget includes significant reductions in FTE. The hiring freeze will remain in place while the agency develops a comprehensive workforce reshaping plan. The agency will chart a workforce path that seeks to align capacity with Administration priorities, takes advantage of opportunities for more efficient practices and organizational structures, minimizes separation costs, and enables adjustment to final appropriation levels without major disruptions to the agency's work. Further guidance from OMB and OPM is expected to guide development for workforce reshaping plans.

Physical Footprint:

OARM and OCFO will work with impacted program and regional offices as work proceeds on the strategic review with OMB and GSA to analyze the needs of the agency regarding its physical footprint, including that of office, warehouse, and laboratory space. The agency is seeking opportunities to further reduce our facility footprint and/or implement planned and pending moves/consolidation in an expedited and most cost effective manner."

The Region 5 office in Chicago is the largest in the EPA. And much of its staff has specialized experience. A lot of that is already threatened by the ludicrous and dangerous budget cuts that have already been outlined, including the zeroing out of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as drinking water, superfund and environmental justice programs.

The programs lost are bad enough. But in many cases, the staff are irreplaceable—taking with them deep understanding of highly technical and complicated environmental issues. When that specialized staff is gone, that knowledge is gone, too. The KC EPA staff is great, but focused on very different issues in predominantly agricultural states. With their own staff cuts to contend with, how focused will they be on the water and industrial contamination issues that Region 5 has been dealing with out of the Chicago office? The special interests holding sway over the White House are clearly banking on the answer of "not very."

How will the fate of the Great Lakes—95 percent of the available fresh water in our nation—be properly protected from distant Kansas City? The elimination of programs associated with the largest freshwater ecosystem in the western hemisphere is dangerous and short-sighted. Dumping the folks who understand it and have been tasked with protecting that ecosystem, as well as the communities reliant upon it. Well, that doesn't just hurt Chicago. It's a blow that will likely be felt in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana for decades to come. (New York and Pennsylvania, too!)

Henry Henderson oversees Natural Resources Defense Council's advocacy efforts as they relate to air, water, energy and sustainability in eight midwestern states.

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Employees of the Matunuck Oyster Bar farm at work on Potters Pond in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, Photo credit: Sea Grant

NOAA's Sea Grant Program on Trump's Chopping Block

By Mandy Sackett

As has been reported, the Trump administration is proposing massive cuts to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), budget. Included in those cuts is the complete elimination of the Sea Grant program.

As a former California Sea Grant fellow with the California Natural Resources Agency, I take personal offense to this assault. The fellowship program has been invaluable to me, giving me a vital role in the state's efforts to address marine litter and waste management issues, teaching me to critically evaluate and craft policy solutions, as well as how to interpret and translate science for policy and communications.

Sea Grant's state and federal fellowships provide recent graduates with an opportunity to participate in research and policy using a science-based approach. The program trains the next generation of decision makers and policy professionals to ensure balanced management of our marine resources.

California Sea Grant and University of Southern California Sea Grant programs are both highly successful beyond the state fellowship program. Check out some of their accomplishments here:

Indeed, the fellowship program is only a small fraction of the vital work that the Sea Grant program contributes nationwide each year.

For 50 years, Sea Grant has been at the forefront of creating economic opportunities, enhancing food and water security, and reducing risks from natural hazards and extreme events facing coastal communities through research and outreach efforts. Sea Grant's research has been critical to making smart decisions about how we manage, protect, and use the resources from our nation's coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments.

In fiscal year 2015-16 alone, Sea Grant used its $67.3 million federal appropriation to generate an estimated $575 million in economic impacts around the country; created or sustained nearly 21,000 jobs and almost 3,000 businesses; helped 534 coastal communities implement sustainable development practices or policies so they are more resilient to hazards like flooding and hurricanes; and helped more than 40,000 fishermen adopt sustainable harvesting techniques.

Sea Grant is a key partner in:

  • developing sufficient capabilities to sustain ocean-based economies;
  • growing our marine food sector;
  • diversifying our energy sources;
  • protecting critical ocean and coastal infrastructure and related natural resources;
  • and training the next generation of scientists, managers, and stakeholders.

These are all necessary components of a more resilient ocean, coastal and Great Lakes. For more information, check out some of Sea Grant's national-level accomplishments.

Let's make our voices heard and make sure Sea Grant is here to stay! Here are four simple steps you can take to help save this important program:

1. Spread the word—share this blog with your friends and family on social media.

2. Join the Surfrider Foundation and support our efforts to #SaveNOAA.

3. Volunteer at a local chapter and get involved!

4. Contact your representatives—a quick phone call is best! Find your representative's contact information here. Here are a few talking points you can use:

  • I'm calling today to let (elected official) know that I oppose the president's proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), specifically the elimination of the Sea Grant program.
  • Sea Grant directly contributes to job creation and economic development, the core functions of the Department of Commerce.
  • Federal funding of Sea Grant goes a long way. Each dollar Sea Grant receives in federal funds is multiplied threefold through strategic partnerships with academic and grant funders.
  • I personally value (name Sea Grant program or service that is important to you). (Click here for more information about Sea Grant's workshops, trainings and programs in your area.)
  • Again, I urge (elected official) to maintain funding for Sea Grant in NOAA's 2017 and 2018 budgets. Thank you for your time.
Health

Chemical Spill Closes Four Lake Michigan Beaches

A U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana has spilled wastewater containing a potentially cancer-causing chemical into Burns Waterway, a tributary about 100 yards from Lake Michigan.

The leak prompted the closure of four beaches and a riverwalk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana American Water in Ogden Dunes—the nearest municipal water source—to shut down its water intake and switch to a reserve water supply, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is overseeing the spill, announced.

U.S. Steel reported the leak on Tuesday morning. The company informed the EPA that its release has been stopped at the source. The amount of spilled wastewater is still unknown.

The wastewater discharge, apparently caused by a pipe failure, contains hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), which is used for industrial processes. The toxic chemical was made famous by the environmental activist and 2000 movie of the same name, "Erin Brockovich."

Incidentally, as Chicago Tribune pointed out, President Donald Trump's administration has proposed a budget that would quash efforts to crack down on the dangerous pollutant nationwide:

"Trump's proposed budget would abolish the Integrated Risk Information System, the EPA office working on hexavalent chromium standards in drinking water, as well as sharply reduce funding for scientific reviews of toxic chemicals and cut back on the agency's enforcement of environmental laws."

Low levels of the chemical were found in Lake Michigan near the mouth of Burns Waterway, Sam Borries, a branch chief for Region 5 of the EPA's emergency response program, told Chicago Tribune.

Borries said that it is unclear whether or how far the chemical has spread down the shoreline. He added that officials have taken 100 samples along the waterway east and west of its entry point to the lake and results are expected Thursday.

Wednesday morning footage from NBC Chicago's Sky5 shows a dark substance spreading into the Great Lake. The EPA says the substance is sediment, not chromium-6.

According to the Associated Press, a U.S. Steel preliminary investigation determined that an expansion joint failed Tuesday in a pipe at the Portage facility. This allowed wastewater from an electroplating treatment process containing chromium-6 to escape into the wrong wastewater treatment plant at the complex. That wastewater eventually flowed into the Burns Waterway.

Andy Maguire, the EPA's on-scene coordinator, told the AP that testing is continuing at the intake areas and other nearby points, but hexavalent chromium from the spill has so far not been found in Lake Michigan.

Chromium-6 is used in chrome plating, wood and leather treatments, dyes and pigments and the water in cooling towers of electrical power plants.

The chemical has long been known to cause lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. Recent science has also shown that, when ingested, it can cause stomach cancer. A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis last year finding that hexavalent chromium is in the tap water of more than 218 million Americans.

California is the only state that has set an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. The state's public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water, yet the state's legal limit is 500 times higher.

The current federal drinking water standard is 100 parts per billion for total chromium, a measurement that includes the toxic chromium-6 and chromium-3, which is an essential human dietary element.

Health groups are pushing for federal regulators to set national drinking water standards.

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Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline. Photo credit: Stefanie Spear

Trump Proposes Cutting Great Lakes Funding by 97%

By Melinda Pierce

New findings revealed Wednesday show which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs will be most affected by the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts, including a 97 percent budget cut for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative strategically targets the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem, including toxic substances, invasive species and pollution. As the Senate currently works to finalize 2017 appropriations and develop legislation to fund the federal government in 2018, it is up to them to make sure that the EPA receives the funding it needs to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and the environment, through programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Budgets are statements about values and priorities. Trump's budget shows his priorities are corporate profits, not our communities or drinking water for the 1 in 10 Americans who live in this region.

Because of President Trump's proposed gutting of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the vital funding that goes to restore and protect the iconic Great Lakes could be nearly zeroed out, putting the health of these waters and our communities at risk. These cuts aren't just despicable, they are dangerous to the Great Lakes that millions of Americans rely on for recreation and for business. Every Senator needs to do the right thing for those living by the Great Lakes and reject these dangerous cuts.

Renewable Energy
Cleveland skyline. Photo credit: Stefanie Spear

Will Lake Erie Be Home to the First Wind Farm in the Great Lakes?

By Susan Cosier

The winds whipping across Lake Erie can average up to 16 miles per hour. And about 7 to 10 miles northwest of Cleveland, there's a pilot project in the works to capture them. The offshore wind farm would be the second in the nation and the first ever in a Great Lake.

The offshore wind industry is already expanding on the northeastern seaboard, but a freshwater wind farm would face different conditions than those in the salty seas of the Atlantic—the biggest one being ice. Lake Erie, the most shallow of the Great Lakes, usually freezes during winter, so a turbine would have to withstand huge chunks of ice crashing into its pole. That hasn't stopped LEEDCo, the renewable energy company proposing the project, from pushing ahead. Earlier this month, it submitted its permit application for the project, dubbed Icebreaker Wind.

If the regulatory agencies—including the Ohio Power Siting Board, the state department of natural resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard—give the thumbs up, the towers could go up as early as next year.

Swedish company ReWind Offshore already has 10 turbines twirling in its country's Lake Vänern. After consulting with ReWind and Eranti Engineering Oy, a Finnish company known for its icebreaking technologies, LEEDCo created its own turbine that can smash through ice. At the water's surface, a sloped section of the pole will act like the bow of a boat, cutting through any frozen slabs and preventing them from crashing into the turbine.

Icebreaker Wind would generate 20.7 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 6,000 homes. That's a relatively small amount, but the farm will also supply lots of valuable info, said Lorry Wagner, LEEdCo's president. The company plans to study the project closely, ask independent scientists and consultants to collect data on everything from the turbines' power output to their effect on fish populations, then make the findings publicly available. If successful, the project could attract more wind developers to the Great Lakes. But first, Icebreaker Wind will have to face certain challenges on land.

Representatives from the Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the national American Bird Conservancy have spoken out against wind farms in the Great Lakes, saying the turbines pose a threat to bats and migrating birds. And in a letter to the Ohio Power Siting Board, officials from a number of groups expressed concern about pollution from lubricants and oils used at the turbines, ecological disturbance to birds, bats and fish and restricted access for boaters.

"It comes down to the people, ultimately and if we can't convince them that this is good for the environment and everything else, then it's going to be a tough slog," Wagner said. "We're making a statement that we are going to clean up the environment and we're going to do it in a responsible way."

LEEDCo sent its first proposal to the Ohio Power Siting Board three years ago, but the company pulled its application due to a lack of details on how the farm would be built and how it would work with existing power companies. That was before the U.S. Department of Energy gave the company up to $40 million in Offshore Wind Advanced Technology grants to conduct more research and development.

A computer model of LEEDco's proposed wind turbine.LEEDco

So far, LeedCo has changed the farm's location roughly a dozen times to make sure its turbines to have the smallest possible effect on nearby communities and natural resources. WEST, an environmental consulting group hired by the company, also recently assessed the farm's potential impact on wildlife and found that the six turbines would have minimal impact on local wildlife.

These efforts may help the proposal move through the permitting process, which is the same for land-based projects in Ohio, said Matt Butler, a spokesperson from the Ohio Power Siting Board.

The Ohio legislature mandated in 2014 that wind turbines can't be within 1,125 feet—measuring from the tip of the turbine's blade—to the nearest property line, the largest such buffer in the country. Since then, very few wind farms have even gone up in the state. Samantha Williams, a Chicago-based Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, said, in a way, the law is almost forcing wind farms into the lakes.

Ohio created a map that shows the swaths of Lake Erie that might be appropriate for wind farm development in 2008, said Wagner. (Rhode Island has something similar). When wind energy companies start planning, they can request to develop in the most advantageous areas. Still, Butler said the siting board considers each project on a case-by-case basis.

ONDR

Lake Erie isn't the only Great Lake wind developers have their eyes on. Two companies previously proposed wind farms off the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, but the Ontario government has since issued a moratorium on offshore wind development. Lake Michigan could also prove to be a good place for wind energy, said Wagner.

John Scofield, a physicist who researches energy and energy policy at Oberlin College, asks what's the worst that could happen if the wind farms turn into a mistake? LEEDco just has to take the turbines down.

"The risk is just nothing like some of the risks we have with other energy choices," said Scofield. For example, coal-fired power plants, like the Bay Shore plant east of Toledo, emit mercury and carbon into the atmosphere and transporting oil can lead to spills almost anywhere, including under the Great Lakes themselves. If an aging pipeline is still allowed to shuttle oil under their waves, certainly offshore wind deserves a fair shot in the lakes, too.

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