Three years after U.S. oil spill, Enbridge is still cleaning up
Source: The Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada), October 16, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Could a similar pipeline rupture happen here? Opponents and proponents of Enbridge’s Line 9 plan are sharply divided. The National Energy Board will hear from both sides as hearings continue this week in Toronto.
Rick Frey keeps a watchful eye on the metal cross his friends are fixing to the front of the village’s Baptist church with the help of a crane truck. Behind the old wooden temple, grass slopes gently down to the banks of the Kalamazoo River.
The idling truck mixes with the groan of heavy equipment on the water as workers dredge the river for oil.
Enbridge is still cleaning up here, more than three years after its Marshall, Mich.-area pipeline ruptured, spewing 843,000 gallons (3,200,000 litres) of heavy Alberta diluted bitumen over 60 kilometres of water.
The Canadian company’s plan to reverse flow and increase capacity in a pipeline that runs through rural Hamilton has shone a renewed spotlight on the Michigan disaster of 2010.
Opponents of the Line 9 project argue the Kalamazoo spill could easily happen in southern Ontario. Enbridge, however, says it has learned its lessons and rejects comparisons between the two pipelines.
Enbridge is seeking the National Energy Board’s green light for its Line 9 plan with hearings under way in Toronto this week.
In Ceresco, the foul images of three years ago are still vivid for Frey, 60.
He remembers walking to the village’s dam after hearing about the spill. What he saw was horrifying.
“You literally saw patches of oil going over the spillway – huge blobs.”
The smell was overwhelming. Frey and his wife drove to their daughter’s house in nearby Olivet to spend the night.
They returned to Ceresco the next day and put up with the odour.
“We fought with that for a while after that, to get it out of the house.”
The Baptist church is the most prominent structure in the village just down the highway from the City of Marshall. Older houses clustered together by the Kalamazoo are home to just a few hundred people.
The disaster blackened the river, left sludge on its banks, permeated wetlands and caked birds in diluted bitumen.
The Freys stuck around, but some – destitute, scared, or anxious to unload property during a downturn in the real estate market – opted for the Enbridge’s property buyouts and left.
The Canadian pipeline company purchased about 150 properties in Ceresco and other communities in the impacted zone.
Frey, who works for a well-drilling company, believes Enbridge is trying to do right thing. “I have no qualms with the effort that they put forth.”
Not everyone in Ceresco holds Enbridge as highly as Rick Frey does.
Deb Miller and her husband stuck around but sold the riverside building that housed their carpet shop to the pipeline company. It was just too much to handle.
“It was globs of oil. I mean it was incredible … From Day 1, up until the day that we sold that store in December of 2012, I could go down with a rake and poke that river and globs would come up.”
Enbridge has replaced 120 of the pipeline’s 460 kilometres. It plans to have the rest of Line 6B, which dates back to the late 1960s, done by early 2014.
But Miller has little faith in the company’s ability to prevent another spill.
“One of the factors had to do with the negligence sitting in that control room. You will never take that away. You’re going to have that with your new pipeline. It will happen,” insisted the 60-year-old event planner.
A damning U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report in 2012 blamed Enbridge’s Edmonton control centre for not reacting to the gushing oil sooner.
Enbridge was in the midst of a scheduled shutdown of the 75-centimetre-diameter pipeline when it burst at 5:58 p.m. Sunday, July 25, 2010.
Edmonton employees failed to recognize that alarms were, in fact, signalling a two-metre-long break in Line 6B, not far from its Marshall pumping station, the NTSB report noted.
“This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge. Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment,” NTSB chair Deborah A. P. Hersman blasted.
“Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures,” Hersman added.
Moreover, Enbridge didn’t repair “multiple small corrosion-fatigued cracks” in Line 6B that the company had detected in 2005, the report said.
The rupture site fell under the Fredonia Township fire department’s jurisdiction.
Fire Chief Phil Damon says people were calling that Sunday evening about a strong odour hanging in the summer air.
The next day, it dawned on everyone that oil had spewed into Talmadge Creek.
From that tributary, the mess spilled into the Kalamazoo, worrying officials it could flow into Lake Michigan.
“If they’d realized what the smell was the night before, a lot of it probably could have been avoided,” said Damon, 55.
The damage was done – and for Enbridge, too.
Kalamazoo became its black eye: the company had presided over what was called the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
If Enbridge could turn back the clocks, it would, says a Marshall-based spokesperson.
“But the fact is it did happen, and so the true test to me is what we’ve done since that day,” Jason Manshum said.
Enbridge estimates that of the 843,000 gallons – or just over 20,000 barrels – that fouled the Kalamazoo, between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons (19,000 to 30,000 litres) remain in the river.
What’s left is “literally the size of pepper flecks” and not toxic, Manshum said.
“In fact, you can’t see it.”
The dredging in Ceresco and at four other areas is the final push of what the company expects to be $1-billion cleanup effort.
The Environmental Protection Agency has given Enbridge a Dec. 31 deadline to complete its work.
The project is on schedule, Manshum said.
“Although this was a horrific event, Enbridge has done its best to make the river as good as it was or better. A tremendous amount of work has been done.”
In Marshall, it’s river cleanup day.
More than 100 volunteers for the local conservation committee are picking up trash, pulling weeds and planting trees on a sunny Saturday morning.
The Kalamazoo has been reopened for recreational use for a little over a year.
Kate Samra picks up litter in heavy brush along the bank.
“I think that our community has done a great job, you know, getting together working on cleaning things up,” says the 16-year-old Marshall High School student.
“I think we’re making progress.”
Not too long ago, that didn’t seem possible, recalls Dr. Jim Dobbins as he takes a break from sweeping pulled weeds.
“I can remember being on the bridge, watching the oil run under the bridge and being sickened not only by the smell of the oil and the chemicals in it, but also by the fact that I couldn’t imagine how they would clean it up,” says the semiretired family doctor.
The immediate impact was brutal.
In November 2010, a Michigan Department of Community Health study found 320 people had suffered from “adverse health effects” as a result of the spill.
The most common symptoms included headaches, nausea and respiratory problems, the report noted.
But Dobbins says he’s heartened by a recent Michigan study that rules out long-term health effects.
“At this point, I couldn’t be happier. I think the river is beautiful again. I take my grandchildren down there … so I feel very, very good about the condition of the river at this time.”
He’s confident Enbridge has learned from its mistakes.
Ann-Marie Renaud, however, sees a bigger lesson in the wake of the disaster: it’s time to adopt greener sources of energy.
The 59-year-old retired teacher has become leery of pipelines.
“It’s like a roulette game, I think, where you just don’t know.”