The Great Lakes faces a critical choice. Should the region become a thruway for shipping tar sands crude oil via ship?

Shipping this form of crude oil could be disastrous for the Great Lakes because:

  • The thick, heavy crude sinks rather than floats. This makes it extremely difficult to remove from the water after a spill.
  • Serious gaps exist in the region’s oil-spill prevention and response policies.

The region experienced firsthand the hazards of tar sands shipping in 2010. A catastrophic pipeline spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River left more than 20 percent of the oil at the bottom of the river, despite more than $1 billion spent on cleanup.

Why the Great Lakes?

Recent growth in Canadian tar sands mining led to plans to ship the crude to U.S. and Canadian refineries on the Great Lakes. A tar sands shipping route was even mapped across the lakes as companies jockeyed to capitalize on demand for the cheaper crude.

That demand has waned with falling oil prices, but is expected to return when prices climb again. To learn more, read our special report, “Oil and Water—Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets Great Lakes?”

“If,” not “when”

It is up to the region to decide whether to welcome tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes. In the meantime, the U.S. and Canada must take steps now to improve Great Lakes oil-spill prevention and response practices.