by Joel Brammeier, Habitat Coordinator, Lake Michigan Federation
A plan to build a natural gas pipeline underneath Lake Michigan is getting renewed attention as the debate on national energy issues increases.
The 104-mile long pipeline, originally proposed at the end of 1999, would carry natural gas from the Illinois-Indiana state line to Milwaukee. The Chicago-area company backing the proposal is People’s Energy Corp. People’s Energy has partnered with El Paso Corp. of Houston, Texas and is currently assessing demand for the pipeline.
The problems with such a proposal are myriad. While the idea of methane bubbling up to the surface of Lake Michigan from a broken pipeline is not pleasant, even more disturbing is the precedent such construction would set. Pipelines for more noxious substances such as petroleum and chemicals could be on the horizon if the idea of the lake bottom as an industrial highway gains credibility.
This project could also encourage more industrial development along the lakeshore. Pipelines running up to the shoreline could provide easy access for shipping and receiving of dangerous products.
In addition, as the Lake Michigan Federation has argued in the past, the lakebottom is held in public trust for the people of the Great Lakes states. Any transfer of the lake bottom cannot amount to a corporate giveaway.
Overland pipelines should eliminate the need for any use of the Lake Michigan bottom. In the last two years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved two major pipeline projects in the Chicago area. There appears to be little need to build under Lake Michigan.
Pressure is also building to open the Great Lakes up to further directional oil drilling. The Bush administration has made energy supply a number one priority. At the same time, the state of Michigan is encouraging a lift of the state’s moratorium on slant-well drilling under Lake Michigan. Directional wells are constructed on land and drill diagonally underneath the lake bottom to search for oil deposits.
The Federation released a report in March criticizing this practice. The report points to public opinion on oil drilling in Lake Michigan as overwhelmingly negative. Potential health risks to humans from drilling are explored as well as the possible vectors for chemical contamination of the lake. The Federation will be keeping a close watch on energy issues in the months to come. In the meantime, the oil drilling report is available in its entirety at www.lakemichigan.org or by calling (231) 722-5116.