Michigan Energy & Environment

IPR brings you the stories and sounds of nature Up North. Hear about our changing natural world, and the challenges northern Michigan faces with a growing economy and a fragile ecosystem.

David Cassleman

An oil pipeline spanning the Straits of Mackinac continues to cause concern among many groups in Michigan.

Enbridge’s Line 5 is more than 60-years-old – and critics say it needs to be replaced or removed.

Now environmental leaders are worried the pipeline could one day carry heavy crude oils – like tar sands – into the Great Lakes region.

That's a future they want to avoid.

Federal, state, and local agencies took part in a mock oil spill Wednesday in northern Michigan along the Indian River.

The emergency drill conjured memories of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. About a million gallons of crude oil have been cleaned up from that spill. There’s some concern about whether Enbridge has made important internal changes to avoid future pipeline problems.

Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust said one of the reasons Enbridge failed to prevent the pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010 is not because the company was completely unaware of corrosion and a cracks in the pipeline.

He says Enbridge inspection teams weren’t sharing information with each other.

 


A recent report from the National Audubon Society points to troubling times ahead for our bird population.


Climate change could make some huge changes for birds in North America: About half of our 650 species would be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find totally new places to live or become extinct – all of this in just the next 65 years.


Jonathan Lutz is the executive director of the Michigan Audubon Society. He says in Michigan, about 50 species are vulnerable to the changing climate.

A judge in Cheboygan says charges of fraud can proceed against Chesapeake Energy.

Michigan's attorney general accuses the Oklahoma-based energy company of swindling landowners in northern Michigan.

In 2010, Chesapeake Energy signed hundreds of leases across northern Michigan. These included the promise of a cash payment to landowners for the right to explore for oil and gas.

Even though Michigan is surrounded by more than 20 percent of the world's freshwater, fish farming is largely unheard of there.

But this summer, the aquaculture industry took a step forward. And that has touched off a debate over the appropriateness of fish farming on the Great Lakes.

There's only one company now in Michigan that raises fish for restaurants and grocery stores in large volumes. It's a family business, run by Dan Vogler, on a few acres near Harrietta, Mich., population 143.

 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria.” He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

The Michigan Senate has said “yes” to a petition-initiated measure to allow wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. It would also overhaul Michigan’s wildlife management rules to let a state commission decide which species can be hunted. And the measure would circumvent two ballot challenges to wolf hunting laws.

The Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management gathered almost 300,000 signatures of registered voters to put the question to the Legislature.

Gov. Snyder surveys Detroit flood damage

Aug 14, 2014
Paula C. McNichol sent to WDET

  Governor Rick Snyder says numerous state agencies are helping Detroit and surrounding communities deal with massive floods. He flew back from a trip to the Upper Peninsula to see the flood damage first-hand from a Michigan State Police helicopter.

Stand Up for Great Lakes

  Five friends from Traverse City are looking to cross Lake Michigan later this month on stand-up paddleboards. (You might have heard this called SUP. It looks something like a surfboard, but riders face forward and they use a paddle to ply through the water).

Andrew Pritchard says the team is looking forward to a serious challenge.

“You’re using almost every muscle in your body,” he says. “So it’s going to be very physically strenuous and I’m sure by the end of it it’s going to have taken a toll on our bodies and probably our minds a little bit.”

Environmental groups have asked the state to reverse a permit that allows a commercial fish hatchery to expand on a legendary northern Michigan trout stream.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery is located along the AuSable River, which is renowned for its trout fishing. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups say that trout population could be threatened by pathogens and parasites from a fish farm that’s allowed to raise as much as 300,000 pounds of fish.

“Frankly, we think it’s a lousy, lousy place for a commercial fish operation,” said the Sierra Club’s Marvin Roberson.

A giant algae bloom is still making the waters in the western part of Lake Erie look like a thick, green pea soup. Toxins in that muck seeped into the water supply of Toledo, Ohio, last weekend, forcing officials to ban nearly half a million people from using tap water. A big cause of the algae proliferation isn't a mystery — it's crop runoff. And local farmers are on the defensive.

Six miles from Lake Erie is Ron Schimming's 400-acre soybean and corn farm.

One Michigan township wants to make special deals with oil and gas drillers. 

State law does not allow townships to regulate oil and gas drilling. But with all the controversy around fracking, some wish they could.  One township in northern lower Michigan is trying to work around that rule and have a voice.  

Moehle family photo

Imagine this: you head out for a quick paddle on a small lake, someplace really close to home. And what do you discover sticking out of the muck on the lake bottom? A rack of antlers so big your first reaction is to call them “dinosaur bones.”

That’s what happened to a girl and her dad in Benzie County last Easter. Now they have test results that show they’ve likely landed on a museum piece. Evidence is very strong this is a rare example of an extinct elk that disappeared from Michigan around 1875.


Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the state Department of Environmental Quality have officially told Enbridge Energy the company has to do a better job of securing an oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac.

The pipeline is part of a 1,900-mile network that runs from North Dakota to Sarnia, Ontario.

DEQ Director Dan Wyant says a state inquiry found the 61-year-old Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Mackinac Straits has fewer supports anchoring it than what’s called for in its lease with the state.

Boardman River Dams and Restoration Project

A group charged with removing hydroelectric dams along the Boardman River says it passed the halfway point in fundraising for the removal of a second dam.

Brown Bridge Dam has already been removed and leaders with the Boardman River Dams and Restoration Project say they are on track to have Boardman Dam down by the end of next year. That’s the dam that crosses Cass Street south of South Airport Road.

This week the group announced it’s raised an additional million dollars, bringing the total raised so far for Phase II to $5.7 million.

If even hearing the word “ragweed” makes your eyes water, you might be one of the nearly 45 million Americans with seasonal allergies. Researchers say climate change is fueling the rise in allergies and asthma.

Jenny Fischer has been taking over-the-counter medication for allergies for a long time. Without it, she suffers cold-like symptoms: a runny nose, sneezing and congestion. An allergy pill usually made it better. But a couple of years ago, things started to get worse.

“I’d be out at 5:30 in the morning walking my dog, and it would just be huffing and puffing. And, you know, I couldn’t catch my breath. It's scary," she said.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

UPDATE 2:35PM: Our story has been corrected because the ballot campaign is now looking to get a voter initiated law, not a constitutional amendment.

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year. But the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

David J. Schwab of the University of Michigan Water Center

An oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac could affect an 'immense' area of the upper Great Lakes – according to a new study. A University of Michigan researcher has simulated how oil would spread if a major spill happened there. Enbridge runs a pipeline under the Straits, which has drawn criticism from people concerned with the 60-year old pipe's safety.

Michigan Sea Grant

Lake Michigan was recently recognized as one of the best places in America to fish for bass. The booming fishery is one sign of what might be a major shift of the lake’s food web. One biologist recently referred to the change as a "revolution."

Even though there are winners, like people fishing for bass, the change is being driven by an invasive species. And it could mean trouble for the most popular sport fish in Lake Michigan.

Chris Noffsinger has an unusual specialty as a fishing guide. He shows you where to catch bass.

Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Two northern Michigan lawmakers are being praised by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters in a new “environmental scorecard.” The report rates lawmakers on the group’s key environmental causes.

Rep. Frank Foster (R-Pellston) is singled out as an environmental “advocate” for a bill designed to protect water as companies drill for oil and gas using a method known as “fracking.”

Kids Creek Is Still Polluted -- But Improving

Jul 7, 2014
David Cassleman

Local groups have spent more than a decade trying to clean up Kids Creek in Traverse City. Although the stream looks clean, scientists say it’s still polluted. Runoff from storms is polluting the stream as it winds north along US-31, eventually flowing into the Boardman River.

Dozens of other rivers and lakes in northern Michigan have similar problems. And people are finding it difficult to restore damaged waterways to acceptable standards.

This week, the Environment Report is taking a look at Michigan’s silent poison — arsenic.

Federal standards allow public drinking water supplies to have arsenic levels of up to 10 parts per billion (ppb), but these standards do not apply to private well owners (that's left up to the well owner to determine).

And in counties throughout Michigan, some wells have much higher levels of arsenic than this "maximum contaminant level" set by the EPA.

Higher levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to skin cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer, among others.

But are lower levels of arsenic a threat to human health?

Northern Ontario Aquaculture Associaton

Michigan took a big step forward in the business of fish farming this week. The state issued a permit allowing the Grayling Fish Hatchery to expand more than ten fold. It will be the largest fish hatchery in the state by far when it ramps up production. The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide. There is even talk of developing the aquaculture industry offshore in the open waters of the Great Lakes, something that has only been done in Canadian waters.

There’s no way to tell if arsenic is in your water without testing it. Arsenic has no taste and no smell.

Certain parts of Michigan have higher than average levels of arsenic in groundwater. That’s especially true in the Thumb region and a few other counties in southeast Michigan. And that can be a problem if you’re on a private well.

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

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