Kalamazoo River oil spill

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Kalamazoo River oil spill
Oil Siphon (4885250078).jpg
Oil sheen near Ceresco Dam
LocationTalmadge Creek and
Kalamazoo River,
Calhoun County, near Marshall, Michigan
Coordinates42°15′27″N 84°59′35″W / 42.25743°N 84.99307°W / 42.25743; -84.99307Coordinates: 42°15′27″N 84°59′35″W / 42.25743°N 84.99307°W / 42.25743; -84.99307
DateJuly 26, 2010
CauseRuptured pipeline
OperatorEnbridge Energy
Spill characteristics
Volume877,000 to 1,000,000 US gal (3,320 to 3,790 m3)
Shoreline impactedapprox. 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 6-foot (1.8 m) break in the pipeline resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history (the largest was the 1991 spill near Grand Rapids, Minnesota[1]). The pipeline carries diluted bitumen (dilbit), a heavy crude oil from Canada's Athabasca oil sands to the United States.[2] Cleanup took five years.[3] Following the spill, the volatile hydrocarbon diluents evaporated, leaving the heavier bitumen to sink in the water column. Thirty-five miles (56 km) 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.

The spill[edit]

Cleanup crews remove oil and contaminated materials from the Talmadge Creek stream bank near Marshall, Michigan

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, at about 5:58 p.m. EDT, a 40-foot (12 m) pipe segment ruptured in the 30-in (760-mm) Enbridge Energy Line 6B, approximately 0.6 miles (1.0 km) downstream of the Marshall, Michigan pump station.[4] The rupture caused a spill of diluted bitumen 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).[5] 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.[6]

Alarms sounded in Enbridge's Edmonton headquarters at the time of the rupture, but control-room staff were unable to interpret them with certainty and remained unaware of the pipeline breach. It was eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee reported spilt oil and the company learned of the escape. For much of that time the operators had shut down the pipeline, so that the bitumen mixture escaped comparatively slowly. But they had thought the alarms were possibly caused by a bubble, in the pipeline, causing anomalous pressure readings, and had twice restarted the line. For a few hours, in total, the material was escaping much faster.[7]

The oil was contained to a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of the Kalamazoo River as several hundred workers took part in the cleanup.[8] 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.[9] Originally estimated at US$5 million,[10] by September 2011, cleanup costs passed $585 million and were expected to rise by 20 percent.[9] The cleanup expense by summer 2012 had totalled $765 million.[7] By November 2014, the total had risen to $1.21 billion, with an estimated $219 million in costs yet to be paid.[11]


In June, 2012, authorities reopened most of the 35 miles (56 km) 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 oil sands product called diluted bitumen (dilbit) oil the pipeline had been transporting.[12]

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".[7]

Response operations in residential area at confluence of Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River.

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. Dilbit, like all crude oil, floats in water but, over time, will sink, complicating cleanup efforts, particularly if dredging is considered too ecologically damaging.[7] Other environmental factors will affect the rate at which this process takes place. This disaster was the largest on-land spill in American history to date.[13]

In July 2016, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million in penalties and improved safety measures in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.[14]

National Transportation Safety Board investigation[edit]

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.[15]

Technicians begin removal of a section of pipe from the Enbridge pipeline oil spill site near Marshall, Michigan

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.[15] The NTSB stated the Enbridge dilbit oil spill is, as of 2012, the costliest onshore cleanup in U.S. history.[16] 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 [1.8 m] 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."[17]

In 2013, in opining on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, the EPA recommended to the State Department that pipelines that carry bitumen 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.[18][19]

Additional dredging under 2013 order[edit]

The EPA issued an Order for Removal in 2013 which required Enbridge to remove oil-contaminated sediment from specific locations along the Kalamazoo River, including the three areas where submerged oil was most pronounced:

  • Upstream of the Ceresco Dam
  • Mill Ponds area
  • Morrow Lake, Morrow Lake Delta and adjacent areas
  • Sediment traps at two designated locations[20]

By the fall of 2014, Enbridge had completed the remaining obligations under the 2013 Order for Removal, including the dredging of oil-contaminated sediment. Based on the successful completion of the work by Enbridge, the EPA transitioned the oversight of the remaining obligations to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2014.[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Laduke, Winona (3 March 2017). "Happy Anniversary: The largest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened in Minnesota". Grand Rapids Herald-Review. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  2. ^ "The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of". InsideClimate News. 2015-11-19. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
  3. ^ Mikulka, Justin (February 1, 2018). "The Oil Industry and That Amazing Floating Tar Sands Oil". Desmog.
  4. ^ "Crude Oil Pipeline Rupture and Spill". 26 July 2010. Archived from the original on 30 June 2012. Retrieved 19 Oct 2012.
    At the time this press release was issued the NTSB was unaware that the spill was of dilbit rather than crude oil.
  5. ^ EPA Raises Oil Spill Estimate In Michigan River Archived October 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Lambert, Sarah (30 July 2010). "Air quality spurs evacuations in oil spill area". The Battle Creek Enquirer. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d "Kalamazoo River Spill Yields Record Fine", Living on Earth, July 6, 2012. Lisa Song, a reporter for InsideClimate News, interviewed by Bruce Gellerman. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
    At the time the alarms first sounded the operators were in process of shutting the line down for routine maintenance.
  8. ^ "EPA notes improvements at Michigan oil spill site". Google News. Associated Press. 1 August 2010. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  9. ^ a b Johnson, Kirk and Dan Frosch. "Rancor Grows Over Planned Oil Pipeline From Canada" New York Times. September 28, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2011.
  10. ^ Wood, Michael (1 August 2010). "Enbridge spill clean-up will take months". The Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  11. ^ Ellison, Garret (6 November 2014). "New price tag for Kalamazoo River oil spill cleanup: Enbridge says $1.21 billion". Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  12. ^ Lawrence, E., (June 21, 2012). Most of Kalamazoo River now open following July 2010 Enbridge oil spill. Detroit Free Press.
  13. ^ "The Arkansas Pipeline Leak Is Another Tar Sands Red Flag", The Atlantic, April 1, 2013.
  14. ^ Valerie Volcovici (July 20, 2016). "U.S., Enbridge reach $177 million pipeline spill settlement". Reuters. Retrieved September 21, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Enbridge, Inc. Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Rupture". National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  16. ^ "Enbridge to Spend up to $500 million more on Northern Gateway safety". Retrieved 2012-07-22.[dead link]
  17. ^ Shogren, Elizabeth, "Firm blamed in the costliest onshore oil spill ever" (transcript), NPR, July 10, 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
  18. ^ EPA (27 July 2010). "EPA Response to Enbridge Spill in Michigan". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ United States Environmental Protection Agency [1] In the Matter of Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership - Order for Removal Under Section 311(c) of the Clean Water Act. Retrieved: 2015-11-24.
  21. ^ United States Environmental Protection Agency [2] EPA's Response to the Enbridge Oil Spill. Retrieved: 2015-11-24.