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Resource issue education needed

January 28, 2011
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - One of the things people have repeatedly heard me say about dealing with the issues involving natural resources and conservation for more than a quarter century is that the more I learn, I realize how little I know.

I don't have a degree in biology or forestry. I do have a drive to learn and a ton of common sense, something I regard as a gift from my parents.

I also believe that, to some degree, I have obtained a bit of wisdom along the lines that gives me the opportunity to keep things in perspective and ask a lot of questions.

There are tiers of knowledge and information available and purposefully poised to accommodate each level of understanding necessary. They range from the point of origin from the scientist or research organization, where experimental models are used to analyze and project outcome, down to a label on a product or direction in a program for the end user that has a brief summary of use and expected outcome.

Many of us, for instance, don't know where the gasoline we put in our car comes from. We don't know why but for some reason, when one brand raises the price, all raise the price equally. It comes across like kind of a fixed anti-trust marketing scheme.

A lot of people assume the oil producers in the Middle East are manipulating the prices to further their riches. In reality, a good part of what we pump into our vehicles comes from Canada. Why is it then, that when the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico sprung a leak, prices climbed uniformly until they got so much bad press the trend all but reversed?

If we are getting our stuff from up north, why should what happens down south effect us? Is it true the prices are being dictated by speculators who are driving the prices up to add to the profit margins for stockholders?

Shouldn't this be treated as an essential public utility and the prices regulated?

Like many people, I don't really know and just want to be able to fill my tank at a reasonable price. Some might think the other issues don't directly affect them so they're not going to concern themselves with them until it gets closer to home.

Last July, 800,000 gallons of crude oil were released into the Kalamazoo River in Lower Michigan. It was among the largest oil spills ever on record in mid-western states history.

The local public reaction was concern on how much it would impact prices at the pump as much if not more than the damage to the natural resources and who was going to have to pay for the clean-up.

Moreover, it is assumed that someone was at the ready to clean it up and all would be taken care of.

In the latest report issued Jan. 14, 2011by Enbridge Energy Partners, L.P., the owners of the ruptured oil line that spewed approximately 843,000 gallons of crude, cost of clean-up will total about $550 million. The loss of revenue is estimated to have been $13 million.

They estimate that substantially all of the costs they have incurred from the leak will be recoverable under existing insurance policies.

Didn't we see a rise in the price of gas when this happened? Even though the costs will be covered by insurance, won't we all ultimately pay in our insurance premiums or again at the pump should the oil company's premiums go up?

What did it take for Michigan's natural resources and environment agencies to monitor and help control contamination? Where did the money they spent come from and how will it be paid back? What about all the other entities impacted by the spill?

I don't know.

In reading up on the issue I did find one point that redirected my curiosity. If the oil that spilled in the Kalamazoo River was from Canada, then how did it get there?

The Lakehead oil pipeline system that carries the crude, at 3,100 miles, is one of the longest in the world. The 30-inch pipeline carries about 8 million gallons of oil per day from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ont.

I don't know if this means the oil originates in Griffith or Sarnia. I assume it is the latter. I further don't know if it hooks into several refineries along the way.

Why would anyone have allowed a span of this magnitude come close to a fresh water river?

I also found that part of this pipeline network is located within other water bodies in southern Michigan. While it is a concern, it is still a good distance away and many, including the media, didn't pay much attention to the issue for any extended period.

Maybe we should because I also found another piece of information related to Enbridge and oil pipelines in our state that might just raise an eyebrow around these parts.

Enbridge's Line 5 is a 30-inch diameter pipeline from Canada that splits into two 20-inch pipes of 3/4 inch steel as it approaches and spans five miles under water. It was built in 1953 and has been under inspection since last September.

Apparently there are no records of any sections of the pipe having been replaced during the almost 58 years the pipeline has been in place. The company looked for signs of metal loss on the pipeline, identify areas of the lake bed that may have been "scoured" out by heavy currents, and where they should build supports to keep the pipeline from flexing.

What is most important here, is that the body of water this particular pipeline extends under, is the Straits of Mackinac.

Sometimes the more I learn, I wish I didn't know.

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Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.



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