Oil spill simulation at the Straits of Mackinac

Straits of Mackinac.  Courtesy of Colleen Brown.

Straits of Mackinac. Courtesy of Colleen Brown.

Next month the Coast Guard will be working with Enbridge to test their oil spill response plan, should line 5 ever rupture.

Steve Keck, a Coast Guard Contingency Preparedness Specialist, said a simulation of this size takes about a year to plan.

“If you had a large spill in the straits you’re gonna have a lot of different dynamics happening there. You’re gonna have currents taking it one way, you’re gonna have surface winds taking product another way. So you have to use trajectory models to figure out where this product’s gonna go. Then you identify, based on those trajectory models, what areas do we want to protect first with the resources we have on hand.”

He says the simulation will test Enbridge’s ability to quickly react to a rupture in Line Five, which carries oil and natural gas under the straits.

“We’ll have a plan already in place of where all these resources are going to go so we don’t spend time trying to figure out who’s in charge, what are your jurisdictions, what are your roles and responsibilities what are the priorities, that’s all pre-identified. That’s the real point of the exercise. Then we test that plan and say ‘does that work?’ and if it doesn’t work or if we find gaps, we go back and we fix the gaps and revise the plan.”

Keck says it will be a full simulation, meaning they will set up as if a spill is actually happening. Everything from animal cleaning crews to temporary press offices will be in place.

The Coast Guard will oversee the simulation, and make sure Enbridge and its contractors conduct the cleanup by the book.

Keck says roughly 500 people will participate in the simulation, with Enbridge footing the bill.