Enbridge and the Kalamazoo River: Two years after the spill

Jul 24, 2012

It's been two years since a busted pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Michigan Radio's  Zoe Clark sat down with reporter Steve Carmody who has covered the spill since July 2010 and spoke about the efforts to clean up with river and how its faring two years on.

Zoe Clark: Enbridge has already spent more than $750 million trying to clean up the spill.  Where does the clean up effort stand?

Steve Carmody: At this point, there is still oil in the river.  Most of the river has been reopened. There is a section of the delta that leads into Morrow Lake which is still off-limits to the general public, because work is being done there, and there are other pockets along the river where oil still exists.

ZC: What is the river like these days? Can you sill see or smell oil?

SC: When I've been along the river, and I've been in different parts of it, you cannot smell it like you could in the early days, and even as much as a year later. But there are portions, especially where they're continuing to work to remove oil, where there obviously is still something there. But the amount of oil that is present in the environment in most of the river area is greatly diminished. However, again, there is still some oil in the environment, and there will be for quite a long time.

ZC: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended a nearly $4 million fine against Embridge.

SC: That's correct, and that's the largest fine that the department of transportation has issued in a pipeline break like this.  Now, the cleanup itself is more than $800 million, and that is continuing. So $3.7 million, while it is a lot of money, is really a rather small amount of money compared to the entire cost to Embridge.

ZC: Also, another report came out from the National Transportation Safety Board.

SC: They delivered a scathing report against Enbridge and about how they handled the report when it occurred. They started noticing alarm bells going off, which apparently is not that unusual; anomalies crop up, alarms sound.  But they allowed the alarms to sound for 17 hours before they realized something had happened, and the only reason they found out something had happened is they received a call from the utility people here in the state of Michigan that there was a strong smell of petroleum in the air.

ZC: So what happens now?

SC: Enbridge still has some time to respond to the federal government for the fine, and that discussion will continue on. Enbridge's stock price is about 50 percent higher now than it was two years ago, and you can look at that and say it is because of our demand for oil that the demand is so great. The price Enbridge has had to pay for the past two years, is more than compensated by what needs to be done from this point forward. Enbridge is facing other issues as well. What happened here in Michigan is affecting Enbridge's ability to build a $5 billion pipeline in Canada, because there's a lot of anger about what happened here, and they don't want it to happen there in Canada. But, the project has the strong support of the government in Ottawa. So, all of the negative publicity that has come out of this oil spill is probably not going to affect Enbridge's ability to move forward from this point.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom