Green Right Now Reports

The total tab for cleaning up Enbridge Oil’s Kalamazoo River spill is expected to be a whopping $1 billion, counting the costs of clean up and penalties for violating regulations.

All that and the cleanup isn’t even complete.

Enbridge pipe break at Kalamazoo, NTSB

The pipe break that leaked into surface water and the Kalamazoo River.

There’s still an estimated 180,000 gallons of oil believed to be oozing along the river’s bottom, with additional contaminated mud in lakes fed by the river. Enbridge expects to be dredging in those lakes until December.

Meanwhile, the pipeline operator continues to install new lines to carry Canadian crude to various points in the U.S. Midwest. An Enbridge line that will cross a swath of Indiana has worried some residents, who are asking  whether the company will provide all the safety measures necessary.

Compared with the record-shattering Deepwater Horizon/BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 workers and released around 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Michigan spill a few months later in July 2010 was relatively small.

The Kalamazoo spill, emanating from a burst pipeline under a tributary of the river, gushed 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the stream and river before the pipeline was shut down, according to the EPA.

Here’s a summary of what happened from the National Transportation Safety Board, reporting two years later, in July 2012:

The oil saturated the surrounding wetlands and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Local residents self-evacuated from their houses, and the environment was negatively affected. Cleanup efforts continue as of the adoption date of this report, with continuing costs exceeding $767 million. About 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. No fatalities were reported.

The NTSB cited the Enbridge for having an inadequate program to detect and respond to and repair leaks quickly; exposing a variety of shortcomings in its emergency systems.

But the incident also demonstrated that this type of spill, of diluted thick tar sands oil called bitumen, can be disproportionately damaging to the environment and difficult to clean up.


The Keystone XL pipeline route in green, orange and blue.

The heavy oil carried by the Enbridge line across Southwest Michigan didn’t float handily on the water’s surface where it could be skimmed or cordoned off, complicating and slowing the clean up effort.

The Enbridge mess just kept getting stickier and trickier as responding crews discovered that much of the heavy bitumen was submerged, drifting along the bottom.

Critics of tapping into Canadian tar sands say this elevated damage from spills is one reason they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, set to bring Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas refineries in a 1,700-mile pipeline that will bisect the U.S.

Keystone XL so far lacks the presidential approval it needs (because it crosses an international border). Still, operator TransCanada received a permit to construct the Southern leg, laying pipeline across Oklahoma and East Texas.

So a portion of Keystone is already in place, despite fierce opposition from activists, coordinated by the Tar Sands Blockade, who clashed with construction crews and local law enforcement in several protest actions throughout 2012 and 2013.

The Keystone pipeline, like the Enbridge line, crosses numerous rivers and traverses land that rests over vast aquifers beneath Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. A leak of any significance could contaminate drinking water for millions, say opponents.

TransCanada has said its pipeline will be safe and presents little risk to the public.