Inaction requires reaction: remembering the Kalamazoo River

Posted on Posted in Unite

Tar sands spreads beyond the boom in the Kalamazoo River
Boom in the Kalamazoo River
We pulled alongside the country road and got out of the car. The distinct smell of tar hit me like a ton of bricks – so strong that you could almost taste it.. We walked quickly in the light rain to the 15 mile bridge and immedatly noticed a rainbow sheen shimmering across the entire length of the river – black stained leaves weeping from the trees and plants. It was much worse than I thought. We snapped a picture of the one lonely boom with oil on either side of it and I remember thinking (possibly saying) “what the hell is that good for!?”.

We were alone on the bridge minus the police car that drove by announcing over his speaker to leave the area due to high levels of benzene in the air. As we headed towards my car a co-worker spotted something black in the grass. We cautiously approached the heavily oiled muskrat – it could care less that we were there, its full attention was on cleaning itself of oil. Heavily distressed, it kept going in and out of the oil saturated water  to find some solution to the black tar that covered its entire body. I found myself in a panic also trying to find a solution.. Along the shore was a makeshift yard sign advising people stay away from the river and to call a number if they had health issues or spotted oiled wildlife. I tried that number 3 times with no answer and no option to leave a message. At that time we had no idea how long the spill had been going on, we didn’t know where it was coming from and we didn’t know who was in charge. The feeling of total despair and hopelessness was reaching an all-time high for me as we had no other choice but to leave the toxic air and river along with that distressed muskrat.

On July 25th it will be 5 years since Enbridge had their 1 million gallon release of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River Watershed from Line 6B, which went unnoticed for nearly 17 hours. With the information we know today, everyone is in agreement that this disaster was 100% preventable.

Most notable: 10 days prior to the spill members of Congress were questioning Enbridge about the integrity of their systems. This was after federal regulators placed Line 6B under flow restrictions because Enbridge failed to address thousands of anomalies that plagued the system. At that time Enbridge provided false assurances that they could “detect a leak almost instantaneously”.

Mackinac Pipeline covered in debris. Photo by NWF
Mackinac Pipeline covered in debris. Photo by NWF
I can’t help but see incredible similarities between the activities that led up to the largest inland pipeline oil spill in U.S. history and what is playing out this week with both state and federal officials reviewing the integrity of Line 5. And while the Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force report takes a tremendous step forward towards a conversation around pipeline safety, and protecting the Great Lakes from spills, it also echoes the same unclear direction that occurred 5 years ago today when Congress decided to wait-and-see with Enbridge. While the report is bold, and the suggestions are precedent setting, it failed to provide a clear action plan and timeline that gives hope towards stoping a disaster. I can’t help but have a sinking feeling that we will repeat history yet again in the Great Lakes because decision makers are waiting until Enbridge agrees to participate in a real conversation.

Line 5 has a clear history of failure, especially along the welds and seams – there are over 1000 individual welds in the two pipelines that cross the Great Lakes for 4 miles. Enbridge knows that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of defects along the inland portions of this line and in the last couple years they have increased pressure despite those known defects and despite the age. Also feeding my fear, just this week Enbridge proclaimed the same ability to detect a leak instantaneously for line 5.

In the past 5 years we’ve watched similar spills occur over and over again – disasters like Mayflower and now Santa Barbara, which were all 100% preventable. Help me remind the State of Michigan and our federal regulators what can happen if they continue to delay direct action. If you have a story you would like to share about your personal experiences with one of these spills, please leave a comment in this entry or email me at lovesurfgreatlakes@gmail.com and I’ll share them below.

I also encourage you to reach out to Governor Snyder’s administration to voice your support over implementing a direct action plan immediately, which includes public participation.


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