The Michigan Oil Spill

One of the things I’m very surprised about is how people outside Michigan don’t seem to know anything about the MILLION GALLON oil spill that happened in July:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons have escaped. That would make it one of the largest ever in the history of the Midwest. But company officials are sticking with their earlier estimation of 819,000 gallons.”

The oil flowed directly into the Kalamazoo River.  In fact, the oil spill happened when the Kalamazoo River was at a historically high level. So, when the water went back to its regular banks, it left a large swath of oily plants and sediments behind.  Lots of plant material and soil is being collected and bagged up; as toxic waste, it will eventually be landfilled.

Here’s what you don’t know if you aren’t here in Michigan.  There is a HUGE network of pipelines carrying raw crude and natural gas all through the midwest. And the pipes are old. They’re metal and they run through swamps and wetlands.  They break a lot, in fact. The Lakehead pipeline carries oil and tar sands, a thick crude that has more heavy metals than conventional oil.  (Large amounts of water are used in the extraction of this oil, and the mining is very environmentally destructive.) This crude carries lots of carcinogens–toluene, benzene, and other nasties.

As of today (Sept. 30th), there are quite different reports being issued about the status of the clean up.  Michigan Radio says that there’s still a lot of missing oil yet to be accounted for. Enbridge says the cleanup is almost completed. I have been involved in some of the wildlife rehab efforts, mainly centered around turtles, and they are still recovering 70+ turtles coated in heavy crude every day.  It takes roughly 2 hours to clean one medium-sized turtle.

And, fall migration is starting.  What will happen to waterfowl heading south if they land in the Kalamazoo river?

It could have been worse, I guess. Fortunately the spill was stopped before it reached the part of the Kalamazoo river that is a PCB Superfund site. All those oils would have worked as a solvent, and released lots of pollutants from the sediments they’re now contained in.

The pipe that ruptured is now pumping crude again.  Here’s the really depressing part–7 months ago, the EPA sent Enbridge a warning letter about possible problems with the pipeline that ruptured.  And another Enbridge pipeline–a different trunk of the same oil pathway–ruptured in Chicago 6 weeks after the Michigan spill.

If you do a search for images of the Michigan Oil Spill, what you see are a whole lot of unsafe work practices.  And, also, depressing stuff like this–an oil boom deployed in a city riverside park, using picnic tables to support an oil skimmer.

Sigh.