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CGLI Participates in Workshop Focused on Crude Oil Transportation in the Great Lakes Region

On April 13-15, 2015, CGLI attended an invitation-only workshop in Racine, WI entitled “Exploring and Visualizing the Issues Involved in Crude Oil Movements in the Great Lakes.” The purpose of the workshop was for the participants to collectively identify the issues surrounding the transportation of crude oil in the Great Lakes region and “what the implied, emergent goals system might be for addressing the issues, unintended consequences, and potentially problematic outcomes.” The organizers used concept-mapping software to capture participants’ ideas, comments, and reactions, and to identify linkages, conflicts, and potential areas of agreement. The focus of the workshop was on crude oil transportation by any method (pipeline, rail, ship/barge, or truck).

The viewpoints presented at the workshop were very diverse and it is difficult to identify areas of true consensus. However, various participants offered the following information during the discussion:

  • Both the US and Canada have a strong economic interest in moving oil through the region and a significant quantity of oil already moves from productive areas in the US/CDN west to refineries in the east. This interest is driven by factors largely outside the region (e.g., energy security, global energy demand, economic growth and productivity).
  • Crude oil already is transported in the Great Lakes region by pipeline and rail, but is not currently transported on the lakes by ship or barge. However, a regulatory system is in place in both the US and Canada that permits oil transportation by ship and barge, and several shippers have obtained permits and received approval of emergency response plans for crude oil transportation on the lakes.
  • The costs, risks, and benefits of alternative modes of oil transportation should be evaluated to ensure that the movement of oil through the region supports economic activity but does not threaten the region’s natural resources. Some participants suggested that cost-benefit analysis is already reflected in existing regulatory programs, others suggested that existing regulatory programs should be reviewed to ensure that they are sufficiently protective.
  • There seemed to be consensus that infrastructure in the region must be evaluated to identify gaps, and that infrastructure must be maintained and upgraded to reflect longer term stability and resilience goals, whatever the future holds for regional crude oil transportation. For purposes of this discussion, “infrastructure” included
    • physical infrastructure (refineries, pipelines, ships, railroads, harbors, railcars, etc.),
    • safety infrastructure (monitoring systems, emergency response equipment, programs, and supplies, etc.), and
    • institutional infrastructure (regulations, governance mechanisms, research).
  • Participants raised various issues and questions about oil transportation activity. For example:
    • Who makes decisions regarding acceptable risk? Federal, state, provincial, and municipal authorities may have jurisdiction over certain aspects of the activity. Several participants argued for a greater role for tribes, First Nations, and the public.
    • Do stakeholders and the public in the region have authority to “weigh in” on oil transportation? Participants noted the need to provide greater transparency to the public regarding the amount and nature of oil that already is transported in the region and to give the public a stronger voice in oil transportation activity.
    • How should the cost, benefit, and risk of oil transportation be distributed? In certain jurisdictions, such as the state of Minnesota and Chicago’s rail-congested inner city, oil “passes through” but does not generate jobs or other economic benefit for the community. Some participants advocated strongly that jurisdictions and communities that bear the risk of oil transportation should also receive a benefit, and that the economic benefit of oil transportation should be distributed to both private interests (e.g. oil companies and refineries) and public.
  • There is no need to “recreate the wheel” on oil transportation in the Great Lakes region. Various other regions of the US and Canada have considered and attempted to balance the risks and benefits of oil transportation. In the Gulf Coast region of the US, the primary concern of the community is jobs/economic development. By contrast, the primary concern in Alaska/British Columbia is the protection of land and the environment. It might be possible/necessary for the Great Lakes community to examine programs in place in other regions to determine whether adjustments are needed to reflect our region’s unique culture and characteristics.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the conveners noted that they will prepare a narrative of the workshop process and discernable outcomes and will try to identify next steps. Next steps might include fact sheets about the crude oil supply chain, additional workshops, and outreach to the public on oil transportation risks, benefits, and issues.

The workshop was sponsored by the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, Enbridge Oil Company, the Council of the Great Lakes Region, the Lintilhac Foundation, and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. Participants included:

  • 8 industry representatives (Enbridge Oil (2), Keystone Shipping Co., Canadian Shipowner’s Association, Marine Pollution Control, CN Railroad, Marine Chamber of Commerce, and CGLI)
  • 6 Sea Grant representatives
  • 5 Great Lakes organizations (Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Council of the Great Lakes Region, Great Lakes Protection Fund, Northeast Midwest Institute-Great Lakes Program)
  • 5 government representatives (Council of State Governments, NY Department of Environmental Conservation, US Coast Guard, US Environmental Protection Agency, and Transport Canada)
  • 3 academics (Rochester Institute of Technology, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • 1 member of an environmental NGO (Alliance for the Great Lakes)