Sen. Peters announces new research facilities to clean up and respond to fresh water oil spills


SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – U.S. Senator Gary Peters announced on Tuesday the U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise (NCOE) for the Great Lakes will be located at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory will be placed in Ann Arbor.

Senator Peters said he was concerned of the potential damage of an oil spill in the Great Lakes or near other inland bodies of water.

“Certainly we know in Michigan how catastrophic an oil spill can be. We saw it in the Kalamazoo River which has been the most expensive oil pipeline break in the history of our country. It took years to cleanup and was a very complex undertaking,” said Peters.

Sentator Peters said during a committee hearing, they discussed lessons learned from the Deep Water Horizon oil rig incident. He said what came out of the hearing was that there isn’t a good understanding of how you clean up oil in fresh water.

“What the researchers told me is that cleaning up oil is a lot more complicated in fresh water than it is in salt water.” Peter’s continued, “One of the reasons is that salt water contains little microorganisms that actually break down oil and eat the oil. So one of the classic ways to deal with an oil spill is to spread it out thin and let the microorganisms do their job. However, those microorganisms do not live in fresh water.”

Peters aid that information led to conversations with the Coast Guard whether they could adequately oversee the cleanup of an oil spill on the Great Lakes. The answer he received was no, they are not prepared and felt more research and practice of techniques was necessary to do that.

Senator Peters wrote and passed legislation to create a center of expertise for the Coast Guard to deal with fresh water oil spills. Peters announced millions in funding to set up the center of expertise.

The funding will support 8 positions. Four in Sault Ste. Marie and four in Ann Arbor.

Scientists will work on academic research and work with universities across Michigan to better understand the dynamics of cleaning up oil in fresh water. In addition, Peters said the Coast Guard will be able to pre-position equipment for cleanup at the Coast Guard station in Sault Ste. Marie.

First responders will also be trained in how to use the cleanup equipment.

“Our university is ideally suited for the vision for a Coast Guard Center of Expertise. We are at the nexus of three Great Lakes right here in Sault Ste. Marie.”

Lake Superior State University President Dr. Rodney S. Hanley, said the university was considering the addition of fresh water research, and this partnership accelerates the process.

“When you think about the level of trade that moves through the Great Lakes, it’s critical that we keep our Great Lakes pristine and clean. So Lake Superior State University stands by, ready to do its part in the Coast Guard center of expertise,” said Hanley.

Construction of the facility on LSSU’s campus is set to be completed by December of this year.

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