Michigan Oil Spill – 1 Million Gallons Now Threaten Lake Michigan
July 29, 2010: Emma Graves Fitzsimmons / The New York Times – July 29, 2010
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — More than one million gallons of oil may have spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River this week, significantly more than the pipeline’s owner initially estimated, federal officials said.
Response crews worked to contain the oil as officials from the Environmental Protection Agency released their estimate of the size of the spill. After the pipeline began leaking on Monday, its owner, Enbridge Energy Partners, put the figure at about 800,000 gallons. “The Kalamazoo River is a fast-moving river, and E.P.A.’s focus right now is on preventing oil from the Enbridge spill from affecting sensitive shorelines and, ultimately, keeping the oil out of Lake Michigan,” the E.P.A. said in a statement.
Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm expressed growing worry on Wednesday that the oil spill, believed to be among the largest ever in the Midwest, might reach Lake Michigan if containment efforts were not strengthened. “It would be a tragedy of historic proportions if this reached Lake Michigan,” Ms. Granholm said. She said Enbridge’s response to the spill had been “wholly inadequate.”
The leak came from a 30-inch pipeline that carries millions of gallons of oil each day from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. The cause of the leak was being investigated. Patrick Daniel, the chief executive of Enbridge, said he did not think the oil would reach the Great Lakes. Enbridge is Canadian owned, but based in Houston.
On Wednesday, Enbridge officials said they were doubling the amount of boom on the river to more than 28,000 feet. They also planned to double the number of workers responding to the spill to more than 300. The pipeline remained closed as officials examined the piece of the pipeline where the leak occurred. Federal regulators issued an order on Wednesday saying the company could not reopen the pipeline without approval.
Representative Mark Schauer, a Michigan Democrat, said he was angry that it took Enbridge several hours on Monday to report the leak after it was discovered. He said he feared that the leak may have started earlier on Sunday and that the amount of oil in the river could be much more than the company’s estimate. Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency said they were investigating the timeline of events surrounding the oil spill. They said Enbridge could be fined if it did not complete the containment and cleanup work.
In this city of about 54,000 people that is best known as the global headquarters of the Kellogg Company, residents could smell oil on Wednesday as black masses of goop streamed down the river. Chris Simmons, the vice mayor who had been leading the city because the mayor was out of town, called the spill “a horrible disaster.”
The city had worked hard over the years to restore the once dirty river, he said. “This river has bounced back from being mistreated in decades past,” he said. “We even had bald eagles come back. Now this is such a setback.” Officials have opened a rehabilitation center for birds and other wildlife. Some people have been sickened by the strong fumes.
Enbridge has paid for at least 30 families to stay in hotels after they reported concerns about air quality and other problems after the spill. Rachel Campbell said the smell of oil woke her up at 3 a.m. on Tuesday. Ms. Campbell, who is pregnant, lives about six blocks from the river in Battle Creek, and she said she had trouble breathing. “My eyes were burning, and my nose was burning,” she said. “It smelled like a diesel tanker had turned over in front of my house.” Enbridge paid for Ms. Campbell, her husband and their two children to stay at a hotel downtown.
But others were worried about whether the company would follow through with all their promises. David Pike, a 52-year-old auto mechanic who is building a home on the river, had his doubts. “How long is it going to take them to clean it up?” he said. “Right now, I’m frustrated. If they don’t fix this, it will turn to anger.”
Environmental groups were frustrated as well to see another oil spill after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Danielle Korpalski, a regional coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said the group would watch to make sure the company restored the environment.
The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: And in a few days the estimate will be 2 million gallons. See a pattern? – SJH
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