Kalamazoo River oil spill
|Talmadge Creek oil spill|
|Location||Talmadge Creek and
Calhoun County, near Marshall, Michigan
|Date||July 26, 2010|
|Volume||877,000 to 1,000,000 US gal (3,320 to 3,790 m3)|
|Shoreline impacted||~25 mi (40 km)|
The Kalamazoo River oil spill occurred in July 2010 when a pipeline operated by Enbridge (Line 6B) burst and flowed into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. A six-foot break in the pipeline resulted in the largest inland oil spill, and one of the costliest spills, in U.S. history. The pipeline carries diluted bitumen (dilbit), a heavy crude oil from Canada's Athabasca oil sands to the United States. Following the spill, the volatile hydrocarbon diluents evaporated, leaving the heavier bitumen to sink in the water column. Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for clean-up until June 2012, when portions of the river were re-opened. On March 14, 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Enbridge to return to dredge portions of the river to remove submerged oil and oil-contaminated sediment.
On Sunday, July 25, 2010, at about 5:58 p.m. EDT, a 40-foot pipe segment in Line 6B, located approximately 0.6 of a mile downstream of the Marshall, Michigan pump station, ruptured. The rupture in the Enbridge Energy pipeline caused a 877,000 US gallons (3,320 m3) spill of diluted bitumen also called tar sands or heavy crude oil originating from Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan) into Talmadge Creek in Calhoun County, Michigan, which flows into the Kalamazoo River. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later estimated the spill to be in excess of 1 million US gallons (3,800 m3)[clarification needed]. On 29 July 2010, the Calhoun County Health Department asked 30 to 50 households to evacuate, and twice as many were advised not to drink their water.
Though alarms sounded in Enbridge's Edmonton headquarters at the time of the rupture, it was eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee reported oil spilling and the pipeline company learned of the spill. Meanwhile, pipeline operators had thought the alarms were maybe caused by a bubble in the pipeline and, while for some time it was shut down, they also increased pressure for periods of hours to try to clear the possible blockage, spilling more oil.
The oil was contained to a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of the Kalamazoo River as several hundred workers took part in the cleanup. Regional EPA Director Susan Hedman estimated that it would take weeks to remove the bulk of the oil from the river, several months to clear oil from the flood plains, and several more months to clean the oil out of the marsh where the spill originated. However, a year later, a 35 mile stretch of the river remained closed. Originally estimated at $5 million, by September 2011, cleanup costs passed $585 million and were expected to rise by 20 percent more. The cleanup expense by summer 2012 had totalled $765 million.
In June, 2012, authorities reopened most of the 35 miles of the river that had been closed to recreation after the spill. Part of the river at the Morrow Lake delta remained closed and other sections of the river remain restricted because of the ongoing cleanup of the bituminous sands oil product called diluted bitumen (dilbit) oil the pipeline had been transporting.
The United States Department of Transportation summer 2012 "fined Enbridge $3.7 million dollars and as part of that fine they listed 22 probable violations that happened relating to the spill. And several of those [violations] are about what happened in the [Edmonton] control room".
One of the reasons for the vast escalation in time and expense of cleanup was that the EPA had never handled a dilbit spill. In addition, it is reported that Enbridge never informed the EPA of the product distinction. Unlike conventional crude, dilbit floats briefly in water but then sinks, causing a much more difficult cleanup particularly if dredging is considered too ecologically damaging. This disaster was the largest on-land spill in American history to date.
National Transportation Safety Board Investigation
In July 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. federal agency with regulatory authority over the failed pipeline, issued a report representing the official conclusion of the investigation into the incident. The investigators found that the operating firm, which had received an automated signal from the pipeline that a breach had occurred, misunderstood or did not believe the signal and attempted to continue to pump dilbit oil through the pipeline for 17 hours after the breach. Local firefighters were notified, and tried to locate the southern Michigan wetland site of the breach, but were initially unable to do so, further delaying the shutdown of the line.
The NTSB investigation synopsis pointed to corrosion fatigue as the underlying cause of the catastrophic breach. The incident was exacerbated by the pipeline's disbonded polyethylene tape coating. In July 2012, the cost of the cleanup operations was estimated at $767 million. The NTSB stated the Enbridge dilbit oil spill is, as of 2012, the costliest onshore cleanup in U.S. history. NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman likened "Enbridge's poor handling" of the spill to the Keystone Kops, asking: "Why didn't they recognize what was happening, and what took so long?" NPR reported that "NTSB investigators determined that the six-foot gash in the pipe was caused by a flaw in the outside lining which allowed the pipe to crack and corrode. Now, in 2005, Enbridge actually had learned that this section of pipe was cracked and corroding. ... That same 2005 internal report pointed to 15,000 defects in the 40-year-old pipeline. And Enbridge decided not to dig up this [Talmadge Creek] area to inspect it."
In 2013, in opining on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, the EPA recommended to the State Department that pipelines that carry bituminous sands oil should no longer be treated just like pipelines that carry any other oil. Stephen Hamilton, an ecology professor at Michigan State University and the independent science adviser at Talmadge Creek, detailed the challenges and expense of the still-ongoing Michigan cleanup.
Enbridge ordered to do further dredging
The EPA has estimated that about 180,000 gallons of Line 6B oil (approximately 100,000 gallons) remain in the river bottom sediment. On March 14, 2013, the EPA issued a new order to Enbridge to remove this oil and oil-containing sediment along the following parts of the Kalamazoo River where significant accumulations have recently been found:
- Upstream of the Ceresco Dam
- Mill Ponds area
- Morrow Lake, Morrow Lake Delta and adjacent areas
- Sediment traps at two designated locations
The EPA's order states that the dredging of the specified areas must be completed by December 31, 2013.
On June 24, 2013, a young man (Chris Wahmhoff) lodged himself inside an Enbridge pipeline in protest of Enbridge's actions and response to the Kalamazoo oil spill and their behavior towards landowners along the Line 6B pipeline construction project. This is an example of the growing protest movement called MICATS (Michigan Coalition against Tar Sands) against Enbridge in Southwestern Michigan. The fact that a protester was able to crawl into a pipeline highlights the lack of proper security by Enbridge at construction sites and all along active pipelines in the area, despite the fact that pipelines are extremely hazardous and are often targets for protests. The protestor now faces 2 years prison for a felony resisting-assault charge, though arresting officers described him as "very cooperative" on record in pre-trial. (File No, C13-4425, page 7 line 18) PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN V CHRIS WAHMHOFF (Aug 27-2013)
July 22, 2013, 4 individuals also locked themselves down to construction equipment along the same expansion 6B, near Stockbridge, to halt construction of the Oil Sands pipeline 6B expansion project of the Canadian corporation Enbridge. Over 40 Michiganders protested the corporation’s expansion of the pipeline that spilled out into the Kalamazoo River. The four people -- Vicci Hamlin, Lisa Leggio, Barb Carter, and Will Lawrence -- are facing felony charges following arrests.
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- "The Arkansas Pipeline Leak Is Another Tar Sands Red Flag", The Atlantic, April 1, 2013.
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- Shogren, Elizabeth, "EPA: Tar Sands Pipelines Should Be Held To Different Standards", NPR, April 24, 2013. Link to EPA letter to State Department. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency Oil Cleanup Continues On Kalamazoo River EPA Response to Enbridge Spill in Michigan. Retrieved: 2013-06-27.