Kalamazoo river oil spill

Enbridge Energy

The U.S. State Department has extended the public comment period on a proposal to nearly double the amount of crude oil that's shipped in a pipeline along Lake Superior.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 67, also known as the “Alberta Clipper” pipeline, runs from the tar sands region in Canada down to Wisconsin near Lake Superior. In the US, it's more than 300 miles long and three feet in diameter.

State of Michigan / EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency says more dredging is needed to remove submerged oil in parts of the Kalamazoo River.   The oil is from a massive spill in 2010. 

It’s been two and half years since a pipeline ruptured near Marshall, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil that eventually fouled about forty miles of the Kalamazoo River.

The EPA says more than a million gallons of oil have been recovered since the cleanup began.  But the agency says there’s still more oil submerged in the river. 

Aerial photo of Talmadge Creek after Enbridge oil spill
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

We’re rounding the corner on the three year anniversary of the Enbridge oil spill near Marshall.

The cleanup isn’t over yet and so far, more than a million gallons of thick tar sands oil have been cleaned up from the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek.

State officials have been looking at possible health risks from the spill.

This week, the Michigan Department of Community Health released a report on drinking water wells along the spill zone.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There's good news and bad news for residents with drinking water wells near the Kalamazoo River. A massive oil spill contaminated the river in 2010.

State officials tested 150 of the residential water wells for contaminants.

“Now the oil related chemicals, those would have been iron and nickel, they were detected in a few wells but nothing but was levels of concern,” says Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

There’s going to be a meeting tonight in the normally sleepy community of Brandon Township, in rural northern Oakland County not that far from Flint. Except that this session is likely to be different.

You can expect it to be crowded, and explosive.

Two years ago, a pipeline belonging to an Alberta-based company called Enbridge ruptured near the picturesque town of Marshall, sending more than eight hundred thousand gallons of crude, thick, tar sands oil into a creek leading to the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in the history of the Midwest.

State of Michigan / EPA

Two years ago today, the EPA estimates Enbridge Energy's busted pipeline led to an oil spill of more than 1 million gallons into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

We've been covering the spill and it's cleanup since it first happened. You can follow the links below for a chronological compilation of Michigan Radio's coverage of the incident and its fallout.

2010

user Kyle1278 / Wikimedia Commons

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.

Michigan State Capitol Building
Nikopoley / Wikimedia Commons

Several rallies at the state Capitol were timed to coincide with the Legislature’s only session day this month.

The largest was a group of about 150 abortion rights advocates protesting a package of bills before the state Senate.

The bills call for strict regulations on abortion providers.

One of the speakers was Renee Chelian. She works for a group of family planning clinics in metro Detroit. Chelian says protests have slowed down the bills after they cleared the state House last month.

Federal regulators this week blasted Enbridge Energy for its handling of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill.     But the highly critical federal report is unlikely to affect a state review of Enbridge’s plans for a new oil pipeline through Michigan.  

NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board is not pulling its punches against Enbridge Energy in a highly critical report of the company’s handling of the July, 2010 oil spill near Marshall.

NTSB

Federal regulators will release a report tomorrow on the reasons why an oil pipeline broke near Marshall.

Environmentalists want to see if problems with federal oversight of the pipeline industry will be cited in the report.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Republican Congressman Fred Upton and his primary challenger Jack Hoogendyk talked mostly about health care the federal deficit and energy issues during a debate Tuesday afternoon. The two Republicans debated for an hour on WKZO.

Their talking points were about the same but Hoogendyk says he’s more conservative than Upton, who’s been in Congress 25 years now.

EPA

Enbridge Energy may have to pay a record federal fine for the July 2010 oil spill near Marshall.

But the proposed fine is well below the expected cost of the nearly two-year-long cleanup.

LadyDragonFlyCC / Creative Commons

It’s another sign things are starting to get back to normal… two years after the spill. Earlier this month the state opened up the river to swimmers and boaters for the first time since the spill.

The Michigan Department of Community Health says it’s now safe to eat fish from a thirty-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River affected by a massive oil spill.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Last night, dozens of people in Marshall had a chance to look at plans for a new oil pipeline that would run through their mid-Michigan community.

The new pipeline would replace an older one that ruptured two years ago, resulting in a massive oil spill.

city of Marshall

Enbridge Energy officials will to meet tonight with people in Marshall to lay out their plans for a new oil pipeline.

Two years ago, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Marshall, leaking more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil.   Only last week, state and federal officials announced the reopening of most of the Kalamazoo River, which has been closed to the public so crews could clean up the oil spill.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

It’s been nearly two years since an Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Marshall, leaking more than 800,000 gallons of heavy, thick tar sands oil into the river. Most of it has been cleaned up. What remains has sunk to the river bottom or dried up on the bank.

EPA Region 5

An ongoing investigation into the 2010 Enbridge oil spill by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is raising concern over frequent staff turnover and inexperience among personnel in the company’s Endmonton control-room.

Last Friday, the NTSB added new materials to the public accident docket, including transcribed interviews with Enbridge staff.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports:

In the transcripts, one control-room operator likens his job to that of an air traffic controller and says he’d like to see Enbridge do more to retain control-room staff in the hot Alberta job market.

“And you just don’t have air traffic controllers coming in and out of the system like that, right, because you know that it will impact safety, right?” says the transcription. “So, I’d like to see them really look at keeping people in the control-room, keeping us happy in there, and I don’t know what it’s going to take, but that’s what I’d like to see.”

The employee added that when he started working at the company 25 years ago, he could count a combined 100 years of experience among four employees in the control-room. Now, he said, the experienced personnel in the room tend to only have three or four years under their belts.

The NTSB also reported that the time of the spill coincided with a shift change in the control-room, offering a possible explanation of why the spill went unnoticed for hours.

In a press release, Enbridge officials said that they would wait to comment on the new findings until the NTSB publishes its final report later this fall. In the release, officials added that the company been working to improve the safety of its operations in the two years since the spill by doing things like changing the “structure and leadership of functional departments such as pipeline control, leak detection and system integrity.”

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated.

A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.   The cleanup of the river and the surrounding area continues.

Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.

(EPA)

MARSHALL, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials have released photographs and 5,000 pages of documents related to the pipeline rupture in southwestern Michigan that polluted the Kalamazoo River and a tributary creek nearly two years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the leak, which spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude near Marshall in Calhoun County. Spokesman Peter Knudson said Monday the NTSB expects to reach a conclusion this summer.

The newly released material includes photos of the damaged pipe, reports outlining the sequence of events following the July 25, 2010 rupture and interviews with emergency responders and officials with Enbridge Inc., owner of the pipeline.

The 30-inch line extends from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge announced plans last week to enlarge the pipe so it can carry more oil.

NTSB

A new report argues that our current laws are not strong enough to protect the Great Lakes from major oil spills. 

The National Wildlife Federation wanted to look at pipeline oversight after the massive tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.  The spill was the result of a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  (The official cause of the spill is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board)

Sara Gosman is an attorney who wrote the report for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Federal laws are inadequate and states have not passed their own laws to fill in the gaps."

We’ve previously reported the spill ran through some of the highest quality wetlands in Michigan.

Sara Gosman says federal laws on oil pipelines do not protect all environmentally sensitive areas.  Instead, the laws cover something called high consequence areas.

"It’s a term of art used by the federal pipeline agency.  It’s a bunch of different areas.  For environmental purposes, it’s commercially navigable waterways, areas with threatened and endangered species and drinking water sources."

Gosman says federal government data show 44% of hazardous liquid pipelines in the country run through places that could affect high consequence areas.  She says that means companies have to do special inspections on those segments of pipelines... but not necessarily on the rest of the pipelines.

"This means 56% of hazardous liquid pipeline miles do not have to be continually assessed, have leak detection systems or be repaired on set timelines."

screen grab / Vimeo Video

In 2010, John Bolenbaugh worked for clean-up contractor SET Environmental Inc. The company was one of many to come in and start the clean-up process after an Enbridge Energy pipeline broke and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of thick, tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

Bolenbaugh was fired after several weeks on the job. He claimed he was wrongfully terminated after he complained the oil was not being cleaned up properly.

SET Environmental Inc. said Bolenbaugh broke company policy by speaking to the news media without approval.

This week, the Battle Creek Enquirer reports Bolenbaugh settled the case, which according to his attorneys, clears the way for a lawsuit against Enbridge Energy.

Testimony began last week in Bolenbaugh’s civil suit against SET Environmental but his attorney, Thomas Warnicke of Southfield and the attorney for SET, Van Essen, said they reached a settlement agreement Sunday.“It is the only legal way to go after Enbridge,” Bolenbaugh said about the settlement moments after Calhoun County Circuit Judge James Kingsley approved and sealed the confidential agreement.

The amount Bolenbaugh was awarded was not disclosed, but he stated he now has enough money to "fund what I am doing now."

What he is doing now is to continue his fight against Enbridge Energy.

From MLive:

"It gives him the resources and means to allow him to continue his efforts on behalf of the community," said Bolenbaugh's lawyer, Tom Warnicke of Fieger Law. 

Warnicke would not comment on any future lawsuit against Enbridge. "At this time, he is exploring any and all alternative legal claims he may have," he said of Bolenbaugh.

Since he was fired in October of 2010, Bolenbaugh has posted videos which he says prove the company is not cleaning up remaining oil.

A lawyer for representing SET Environmental Inc. quoted in the Battle Creek Enquirer said  testimony given last week, and testimony that would have been given had the case continued, "would have explained how oil was being removed and why Bolenbaugh is mistaken that the oil spill is being hidden from the government and the community."

Bolenbaugh came up in one of our  "Your Story" segments last year. Activist, social worker, and Kalamazoo College grad student Sasha Acker went down to the Kalamazoo River's edge with Bolenbaugh. You can read about her account here.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Calhoun County Health officials will open up a three mile section of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall Wednesday at 8 a.m. It’s the first time the river has opened to the public since a major oil spill July 26th, 2010. 

It’s just a tiny portion of the 37 total miles of the river that have been closed since the underground Enbridge pipeline ruptured. Crews have recovered more than a million gallons of oil from the river. 

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

We’re coming up on two years since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says most of the oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But there’s still oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. This spring, the company, the state and the EPA will be figuring out how much oil is left... and where it is.

“The pipeline break location was approximately a half mile upstream from here.”

Mark DuCharme is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. We’re standing on a two-lane road looking out at Talmadge Creek.

“Shortly after the spill, you couldn’t actually even see the creek. If you were down at this location, all you could see is oil. These banks were heavily oiled as well, so just catastrophic damage.”

He says things have come a long way at this site. Enbridge moved the creek out of its normal path... they actually diverted it and ran it through a pipeline. Then, they dug up the contaminated creek bed. Now, the creek is back in place. Enbridge put in clean soil, and then added seeds from native wetland plants.

Little green shoots are pushing up through the ground.

But there’s still a long road ahead. Mark DuCharme says Enbridge has more restoration work to do at Talmadge Creek... and then the DEQ will require long-term monitoring.

“Can we replace it to the exact condition it was prior? Probably not. Can we go back and put something back that will be an acceptable ecosystem? That’s the expectation.”

DuCharme says tar sands oil is very heavy, and very thick - and that has made the cleanup more difficult.

USEPA

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - The release of a federal report detailing the cause of a 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil in southern Michigan has been delayed.

The Kalamazoo Gazette says  the report is expected to be released this fall, about six months later than expected. The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the delay to other investigations into separate pipeline incidents.

The report also is expected to offer future safety recommendations for the pipeline industry.

The July 2010 spill from Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.'s pipeline sent oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge says it will be able to finish its internal investigation after the report is released.

Cleanup efforts continue this year. The pipeline runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 The EPA this week gave approval to Enbridge Energy’s plans for continuing its cleanup of an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.    The plan suggests major cleanup operations may change next year.  

More than 840 thousand gallons of crude oil spewed from a broken pipeline near Marshall in July, 2010.   The exact amount remains in dispute.     

Hundreds of workers have spent the past 17 months removing the oil from the river.    

EPA Region 5

Enbridge Energy says it’s done cleaning up oil that sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River until next spring.

“That doesn’t mean cleanup is done for the year it’s just going from one phase into another,” company spokemans Jason Manshum said.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A Michigan State University professor says he’s concerned a revised plan for cleaning up an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River is missing details in one important area.      

Herpetological Resource and Management

According to an article in the Battle Creek Enquirer, turtles are still suffering negative effects from last year's oil spill in west Michigan's Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.

Scientists including Bob Doherty have been working to rehabilitate affected turtles and document the extent of the damage to turtle populations caused by remaining submerged oil.

Doherty is under contract with Enbridge Inc., the company responsible for the spill.

Doherty and his staff will administer care to some 30 rescued turtles in the coming months who are not healthy enough to return to the wild for winter hibernation.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Nearly 15 months after an oil spill fouled miles of the Kalamazoo River, the pipeline’s owner is submitting an updated cleanup plan to the federal Environmental Protection Agency today.  

The July 2010 pipeline break spewed more than 840 thousand gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.   Hundreds of workers have spent the past year removing contaminated soil, sucking up submerged oil and rehabbing endangered wildlife. But the work is far from over.  

A company spokesman says senior Enbridge officials spent Thursday reviewing and revising the new cleanup plan, that the EPA demanded after the company missed an August deadline.  

The new plan will detail how Enbridge plans to complete the removal of submerged oil in the Kalamazoo River,  remove oil and contaminated soil beyond the river bank and how they’ll reassess their cleanup plans in 2012.  

Enbridge officials estimate the cleanup will eventually cost the pipeline company $700 million.

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