The perceived risk of the Line 5 Pipeline and spills under ice

Using the psychometric paradigm of risk in conjunction with surveys of the Michigan public (n = 638) and a regional planning organization (n = 65), we examine the perceived risk and concerns associated with underwater oil pipelines, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline in particular, and oil spills under ice. The fate of Line 5 is heavily debated in Michigan, specifically the portion that traverses the Straits of Mackinac, which can be ice-covered for months. Scant literature examines how individuals perceive the risk associated with Line 5, its alternatives, or potential spills in open water or under ice. Here we identify considerable concern regarding both the pipeline and the potential for spills under ice on behalf of the public, and increased concern about spills under ice on behalf of the planning organization. Organization members’ concerns are significantly predicted by beliefs about the difficulty in remediating spills, however not by beliefs about spills’ likelihood, difficulty in detection, noticeability, or consequences. Our results identify the need to better examine and communicate the risks associated with underwater pipelines and spills, both in open water and under ice, as well as options for remediating oil captured under ice. Furthermore, we recommend the adoption of decision-making and risk governance processes that explicitly expand analysis of the social, economic and environmental tradeoffs of underwater pipelines such as Line 5.

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