Michigan Oil Spill Damages Wildlife, Forces Residents To Evacuate

On Monday, a disastrous leak in one of the world’s largest pipeline systems gushed over 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, located in southwest Michigan. Already, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has declared the area a disaster zone, quickly activating State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to ensure all state resources are devoted to oil spill response. “From my perspective, the response has been anemic,” Granholm said. Spill workers and volunteers have been hard at work, cleaning the horrifyingly oily water:

This is not the first failure of Enbridge Inc., the Canadian energy company responsible for the spill. Michigan Messenger’s Todd Heywood reports that, “documents from the agency show that Enbridge Energy pipelines have leaked oil on 12 different occasions in Michigan since 2002.” Furthermore, documents obtained by the Detroit Free Press and other news outlets indicate Enbridge Inc. was “notified twice this year of potential problems involving old pipe prone to rupturing and an inadequate system for monitoring internal corrosion.” While this is one of the biggest threats to a pipeline, it is currently unclear whether Enbridge addressed the notices or if “the concerns played any role in the leak.”

Although Michigan’s spill represents only 32 percent of the amount of oil spilled per day in the ongoing BP oil disaster, the environmental implications of the leak are already clear. Not only has wildlife — including geese and muskrats — been coated in oil, but fears also remain high that the oil will contaminate local water supplies. The Calhoun County Health Department has advised residents around the area of the Kalamazoo River oil spill to evacuate, due to “‘higher than acceptable levels of benzene’ in air quality studies.” Benzene, notes the press release from the health department, is a “highly flammable” organic chemical that can lead to a series of symptoms from dizziness to tremors. The long-term effects of benzene exposure, however, are more dire and are linked to excessive bleeding and even cancer in human beings. Enbridge has agreed to reimburse affected families for the cost of hotel stays.

Yesterday, Enbridge spokeswoman Terri Larson said “no fresh oil is leaking from the leak site itself.” Moreover, as the Michigan Messenger reports, “Despite claims by Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel that the company would reopen the leaking oil pipeline ‘in a matter of days,’ the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued a Corrective Action Order directing the company not to reopen the pipeline until a comprehensive safety assessment can be completed.”

Nina Bhattacharya

Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.