Canadian oil company Enbridge has agreed to pay $75 million for its role in a 2010 pipeline rupture that resulted in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
Enbridge settled with the state of Michigan this week over the Kalamazoo River oil spill, a disaster that sent more than 800,000 gallons of Canadian tar sands crude into the river. Under the settlement, the oil company will pay $30 million to restore or create 300 acres of wetlands, in an effort to help to improve the health of the Kalamazoo River. The spill affected 38 miles of the river itself and 4,435 acres of shoreline, according to the Detroit Free Press.
$18 million of the settlement will go towards removing a dam and making other changes to help the river flow more naturally, $10 million will go towards building and maintaining more boating and recreation access sites to the river, and $5 million will go towards additional river restoration.
The remaining $12 million will go towards reimbursing the state of Michigan for attorney costs, as well as for the state’s role in the cleanup and restoration of the river. The cleanup of the spill proved difficult and expensive — tar sands is thicker than conventional oil, so instead of floating on top of the river’s water it sank to the bottom. That meant that Endbridge had to dredge the bottom of the river and the river banks to try to remove the oil, and then plant native vegetation along the banks in an attempt to restore the surrounding land. Enbridge puts the cost of cleanup of the spill at $1.21 billion, a figure that’s $85.9 million higher the company first estimated.
In spite of this cleanup, residents who live near the river still say they see residual oil in the river, and they won’t fish in it.
“Anybody that’s aware there was an oil spill doesn’t go in the river. I would say 80 percent of the community is very aware that the water isn’t safe,” Calhoun County resident Chris Wahmhoff told Al Jazeera America.
As part of the settlement, Enbridge will continue to monitor the river and surrounding wetlands, and will clean any oil that remains in the river, as long as the cleanup doesn’t cause further environmental damange.
Enbridge’s $75 million settlement comes on top of additional fines and settlements from the oil spill already made by the company. After the spill, the company was fined $3.7 million in civil penalties from the Department of Transportation. The company also settled a class action lawsuit for $6.25 million, a portion of which will be paid out to plaintiffs who lived or owned property within 1,000 feet of the Kalamazoo River. Some of these residents — about 150 families, according to InsideClimate News — were forced to move after they were faced with the fumes and oil that, in some cases, saturated lawns. Enbridge also agreed, as part of the settlement, to donate $150,000 to local environmental groups.
In announcing the settlement, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant was positive, calling the agreement a “huge win for Michigan’s environment.”
“We are pleased to announce this settlement, because the key provisions are projects to improve and restore the river corridor. This settlement will mean improved water quality, improved fish and wildlife habitat, and an improved experience for river users in the years to come,” Wyant said.
Some environmental groups, however, were more cautious in their reactions to the settlement. Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office in Michigan, told InsideClimate News that he didn’t yet know if the $75 million was enough to fully bring back the river, though he was glad to see that a good portion of the money would go towards restoration.
“What’s less clear is whether the amount of funding is enough to achieve long-term restoration goals for the river as well as to serve as a sufficient penalty for the economic, social and ecological damages caused,” he said.