A Coast Guard commander says the service and other responders are not adequately equipped or prepared for a "heavy oil" spill on the Great Lakes.
A major oil spill could spell economic disaster for states in the region, severely damaging the multibillion-dollar fishing and recreational boating industries and killing wildlife, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Rear Adm. Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard's District 9, which includes the Great Lakes, said everyone involved in spill response on the Great Lakes is urgently seeking a plan to address a major spill, but they haven't found a way forward yet.
"When you get environmental groups, technical experts, oil spill recovery groups and regulators together, that's how you find what's the best way ahead," Midgette said Tuesday at an international forum on heavy oils at the Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority attended by a cooperative of oil and chemical spill professionals.
Midgette said he was particularly concerned that response plans and organizations "are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills, particularly in open-water scenarios" in an Aug. 20 memo to the Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations.
David Holtz, Michigan chairman of the non-profit Sierra Club, said the problem is serious.
"How can Michigan and the Great Lakes be in a position where two large oil pipelines are operating underneath the Straits of Mackinac, and the lead responders — the first responders to an oil spill — say they couldn't respond effectively if something happened to those pipes?" he said.
The Coast Guard's warning, based on its 2013 study, comes as Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant convene a task force looking at petroleum pipeline safety throughout Michigan and the state's preparedness for spills, including on the more than 60-year-old pipelines that Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge operate along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
The Coast Guard noted other vulnerable locations, including oil pipelines running under the St. Clair River between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario, and near Niagara Falls and Buffalo.