The Great Lakes: 'Liquid Pipeline' for World's Dirtiest Fuels?

One of the most precious sources of freshwater on the planet, the Great Lakes, is at risk of becoming a “liquid pipeline” for the dirtiest forms of oil and gas available, according to a report published Monday by water champion Maude Barlow.

The report, Liquid Pipeline: Extreme Energy’s Threat to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway (pdf), details how the extraction of “extreme” new forms of energy and plans to transport those fuels—as well as waste from more traditional sources—under and across the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River threaten these vital resources.

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“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and only just beginning to understand the grave impacts these extreme energy projects are going to have on the Great Lakes,” said Barlow. “We often see these projects approved piecemeal but we have to step back and think about how all these projects are going to affect the Lakes.”

“Extreme energy” is defined as the extraction of fossil fuels by methods that grow more intensive over time and that strongly correlate with damage to both the environment and society—such as tar sands open pit mining and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale oil and gas—according to the Extreme Energy Initiative, a project of the Human Rights Consortium at the University of London.

“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and only just beginning to understand the grave impacts these extreme energy projects are going to have on the Great Lakes.” 
—Maude Barlow


In the report, Barlow takes an accounting of the myriad proposals and projects in development in the Great Lakes region and their threat to the ecosystem—from spill and extraction pollution to large-scale water consumption. Further, Barlow highlights how this “frenzy” has been fueled by North American trade agreements, which often provide protection from liability for the energy and transport companies.

“Enbridge is asking that the Alberta Clipper pipeline transport 800,000 barrels of oil per day, Calumet Specialty Products wants to ship millions of barrels of oil across Lakes and TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline cuts through the Great Lakes watershed,” Barlow continued. “If governments continue to allow projects like this, what are our lakes going to look like in 20 or 50 years?”

The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world and hold more than 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and 95 percent of North America’s.

In conjunction with the release of the report, the Council of Canadians—of which Barlow is the national chairperson—has launched an action alert calling on state governors and provincial premiers to ban extreme energy in the Great Lakes basin. 

Demanding “bold action,” the group urges new protections for the lakes and their tributary waters, designating the basin a “lived Commons, public trust and protected bioregion, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them.”


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