Crude oil travels through the Great Lakes Basin in unprecedented quantities and domestic crude production has increased by 38% since 2009 (Great Lakes Commission, 2015). Crude oil production from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields and the Alberta tar sands has begun to outpace pipeline capacity putting pressure on other forms of transportation: rail, truck and barge. Increased safety concerns related to these alternative transportation modes, alongside aging and inadequate infrastructure poses a risk to the Great Lakes and other critical northern watersheds in the U.S. and Canada. Not only is crude oil moving though the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region at increasing rates via various forms of transportation but it is also a “wicked” problem (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Such problems may defy resolution due to the dynamic nature and complex interdependencies, along with diverse (and often opposing) stakeholders requirements.

The overall goal of this research and extension program for the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network is to help concerned stakeholders better understand the scope of issues associated with transportation of crude oil in the Laurentian-Great Lakes basin and adjoining watersheds. This entails helping stakeholders think about the opportunities, risk and hazards within the complex world of dangerous goods transportation. Sea Grant will work to build stakeholder knowledge related to risk and hazards, potential economic and environmental impacts from oil transportation. Sea Grant will also support needed research along with systems-thinking to grapple with this multi-dimensional issue. Stakeholders served will be concerned citizens (NGO members, anglers, teachers, etc.), policy makers/planners and local/state/federal agencies.

Rittel, H.W.J. and M.M. Webber. 1973. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences. 4(2): 155-169.