The Michigan Oil Spill

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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.

Invasive Wildlife Bill Reintroduced!

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You might remember me covering this bill before–it’s now The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (H.R. 669).  Currently, species may be imported unless declared “injurious” under the Lacey Act–which can only happen after an animal has caused demonstrable harm.

A few highlights from an Ecological Society of America Press Release:

  • The bill would establish a new risk assessment process in which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would evaluate the risk posed by nonnative species before allowing them into the country.
  • H.R. 669 therefore represents a key shift from reactive to proactive policy, allowing FWS to stop nonnative species invasions in many cases before they begin. (emphasis mine)

If you’d like to know more about the costs and impacts of invasive species, The ESA issued a position paper  in 2006 (PDF).  Listing the thousands of invasive species that cost an estimated $138 Billion/year in control and damage would take too long–I’ll just invite you to surf around and note how many pests were imported as food, pets, or garden ornamentals.

Fairly predictably, owners of exotic pets are (again) sounding an alarm.

As I stated last time: This law will regulate new introductions of species. Not species that are already established here in the US. It also calls for a “white list” of already introduced exotics that may be continued to be imported, since they are judged to not be harmful, or have potential to be harmful.

No one will come and grab your snake.

Exotic plants and animals are interesting, beautiful creatures, and lots of fun to own. But they can also, despite our best intentions, escape and become terribly destructive.

Once the stimulus Kerfuffle is over, I encourage you to contact your Representatives and get this bill on the House floor and passed to the Senate.  Don’t let the pet industry kill it!

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