The environmental threat to the Great Lakes posed by the transport of oil on and underneath its waters has prompted two Michigan’s U.S. senators to craft a bill aimed at reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic spill.

The legislation calls for a ban on tankers and barges transporting crude oil through the Great Lakes, but U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Wednesday no crude oil is currently being shipped through the lakes.

The bill also requires a “top-to-bottom” review of the region’s pipeline system. Oil pipelines, particularly a pair that run beneath the Straits of Mackinac, have become a hot-button issue since a rupture of a pipeline near Marshall five years ago resulted in the largest in-land oil spill in U.S. history.

The Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills Act — announced Wednesday by Peters and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing — would have no immediate impact on the region’s pipelines. Conservation and environmental groups have called for the Mackinac pipelines, operated by Alberta-based Enbridge Energy, to be shut down.

The company also operates the pipeline that ruptured near Marshall in 2010, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

“...Michiganders know all too well that a pipeline break can have devastating consequences for our environment and our economy,” Peters said Wednesday. “One can only imagine what a disaster it would be for a similar oil spill to occur in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest system of fresh surface water.

“This commonsense legislation will help us prevent an oil spill in the Great Lakes, whether it’s a tanker accident or a pipeline leak in the Straits of Mackinac, so that we can protect and preserve this ecological treasure for generations to come.”

The bill also attempts to address what Stabenow and Peters identify as problem areas in spill response planning — preparing for cold weather conditions and the effectiveness in doing oil clean-up in fresh water. Both legislators said U.S. Coast Guard officials have indicated that the region is not prepared for a major spill during winter.

“Given the fact we’ve had nearly complete ice coverage over the Great Lakes the last two seasons ... if you had an spill or break in the middle of winter, it’s difficult to clean up given the currents in the Straits of Mackinac,” Peters said. “How would you clean that up?”

The proposed legislation also:

Calls for adding all areas in the Great Lakes where pipelines cross open water to the federal government’s list of High Consequence Areas — triggering tighter criteria for new pipeline installations.

Requires federal studies evaluating the risks posed by pipelines in the Great Lakes and proposing alternatives for the two lines in the Straits of Mackinac.

Covers an assessment and improvement of oil spill response plans.

Requires providing more information and transparency on the risks posed by pipelines.

“Another pipeline break like the one that dumped a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River would be devastating for our Great Lakes, waters and wildlife,” Stabenow said in the release. “This bill requires a thorough review and plan to minimize risks and prevent catastrophic oil spills.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder called for the creation of a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board to “ensure safety, upkeep and transparency of issues related to the state’s network of pipelines.”

“While pipelines are an efficient way to deliver necessary energy to power our homes, our communities and our economy, pipeline spills also have negatively impacted our natural resources in the past,” Snyder said in a statement. “We remain fully committed to protecting our Great Lakes and natural resources, and this board will be charged with continuing the important work of safeguarding our environment while ensuring safe, affordable and reliable energy.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette also addressed rising concerns over pipelines in July. He released the findings of a pipeline task force convened the previous year which included a ban on heavy crude oil being transported through Enbridge’s Mackinac pipelines.

The company, however, said it had no plans to ship heavy crude through those lines. An Enbridge spokesman said the submerged pipelines carry only light crude oil and natural gas liquids.

This week, the U.S. Coast Guard, along with local, state and federal officials, will conduct an emergency response drill simulating an oil spill in the straits.

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