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Oil Spill In The Straits Of Mackinac Would Be Ecological Disaster Says U-M Study

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Oil clings to plants along the Kalamazoo River after an oil spill of approximately 840,000 gallons of crude oil July 28, 2010 in Marshall. (Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Oil clings to plants along the Kalamazoo River after an oil spill of approximately 840,000 gallons of crude oil July 28, 2010 in Marshall. (Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

CBS Detroit (con't)

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ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would be an ecological disaster – according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

Researcher and hydro-dynamics expert Dave Schwab explains that the currents are why that area is so problematic.

“I can’t think of another place in the Great Lakes where something that entered the water would be spread as far and as fast as the Straits of Mackinac,” he said.

Because the strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac reverse direction every few days, a rupture of the oil pipeline beneath the channel would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away in both lakes Michigan and Huron, according to a new University of Michigan study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

A spill would need less than three weeks to travel 50 miles to Lake Huron and 35 miles to the Lake Michigan coast.

“In the Strait of Mackinac the flow can be up to 10 times the amount that goes over Niagara Falls,” said Schwab. “And it can change direction, regularly, every day or two.”

A pipeline that runs under the straits is operated by Enbridge, the same company responsible for the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill - where a burst pipe spewed nearly one million gallons of heavy crude costing over $700-million to clean up.

“Any material released into the straits will go into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which would complicate containment efforts,” Schwab said. “Hopefully, these simulations and animations will be useful in understanding and preparing for potential impacts.”

The Straits of Mackinac separates Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and connects lakes Michigan and Huron.

Find more information about the study [HERE].

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