On a midsummer evening in July of 2010, heavy crude started gushing from a 30-inch pipeline into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, Michigan. By the next morning, heavy globs of oil soon were coating the Kalamazoo River, into which the Talmadge flows, and the stench of petroleum filled the air.
Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns and operates the ruptured pipeline 6B, made a lot of mistakes in the hours after the first gallons spilled. The disaster didn’t have to be so bad. Records of the official responses showed, for instance, that the company didn’t send someone to the site until the next morning. And that the Enbridge pipeline controllers increased pressure to the line, on a hunch that the funky signals they were getting was from a bubble, and not a spill.
When all was said and done, an estimated 1 million gallons of tar sands crude had leaked into the Kalamazoo River – ranked by the EPA as the largest spill in Midwestern history – with some oil flowing a full 40 miles down the river towards Lake Michigan.
Though the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, tried to deny it, the oil was soon revealed to be diluted bitumen (or DilBit), a form of tar sands crude that is thick and abrasive and can only be pumped through pipelines at enormously high pressure. DitBit is also, it turns out, much harder to clean up than regular old dirty crude. And that – the clean up – is where the story gets really complicated.
This week, OnEarth.org (where I’m also a blogger), published an incredible 3-part series about the Enbridge spill, the egregious mishandling of clean up efforts, and Enbridge’s deliberate cover-up of its shoddy, cheap, and reckless work. Written by Ted Genoways, who spent weeks on the ground in Michigan and accumulated over 100 hours of interviews, the piece is the sort of long form, old-fashioned, exhaustive muckraking that you don’t see nearly enough of these days.