Michigan Oil Spill Among Largest In Midwest History

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – Crews were working Tuesday to contain and clean up more than 800,000 gallons of oil that poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan, coating birds and fish.

Authorities in Battle Creek and Emmett Township warned residents about the strong odor from the oil, which leaked Monday from a 30-inch pipeline built in 1969 that carries about 8 million gallons of oil per day from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

Crews waded in oily water as they worked to stop the oil’s advance downstream. Oil-covered Canada geese walked along the banks of the Kalamazoo River, and photos showed dead fish floating in the spill. The Kalamazoo River eventually flows into Lake Michigan, but officials didn’t expect the oil to reach the lake.

“This is just a disaster,” said Raymond Woodman, 33, of Emmett Township, who watched workers use a vacuum truck to suck oil from the water at the Ceresco Dam, downstream from leak. “It shouldn’t matter how much it costs to clean this up. They need to clean it up.”

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Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc.’s affiliate Enbridge Energy Partners LP of Houston estimated about 819,000 gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek before the company stopped the flow. Enbridge crews and contractors deployed oil skimmers and absorbent booms to minimize its environmental impact.

“We are going to do what it takes to make this right,” Enbridge’s president and CEO Patrick D. Daniel said during a news conference in Battle Creek.

The company had begun testing the air near the spill, with the primary concern being the possible presence of the cancer-causing chemical benzene. On Tuesday, the company said it hadn’t found any levels that would be of concern in residential areas. Groundwater testing also was planned. Authorities evacuated two homes near the leak, and some locals said they were concerned about the fumes. But there were no reports of sickened residents.

As of Tuesday afternoon, oil was reported in about 16 miles of the Kalamazoo River downstream of the spill, said Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. She said state officials were told during a company briefing that an estimated 877,000 gallons spilled — a figure more than 50,000 gallons higher than the company’s public estimate.

U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., said he discussed the spill with President Barack Obama. Schauer called the spill a “public health crisis,” and said he plans to hold hearings to examine the response.

“The company was originally slow to respond and it is now clear that this is an emergency,” Schauer told reporters on a conference call.

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Obama has pledged a swift response to requests for assistance, White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.

The cause of spill was under investigation. The site is in Calhoun County’s Marshall Township, about 60 miles southeast of Grand Rapids. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm activated the State Emergency Operations Center.

“Our focus is protecting Michigan citizens and our environment by providing any needed state resources to expediently address the situation,” Granholm said in a written statement.

Enbridge said it had about 200 employees and contractors working on the spill. Local, state and federal agencies also were involved, and the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation. The pipeline was shut down Monday and isolation valves were closed, stopping the source of the oil, the company said.

The Kalamazoo River eventually bisects the city of Kalamazoo and meanders to Saugatuck, where it empties into Lake Michigan. Officials didn’t think the oil would spread past Morrow Lake, which has a dam upstream of Kalamazoo, Dettloff said.

The river already faced major pollution issues. An 80-mile segment of the river and five miles of a tributary, Portage Creek, were placed on the federal Superfund list of high-priority hazardous waste sites in 1990. The Kalamazoo site also includes four landfills and several defunct paper mills.

The Michigan Department of Community Health warned the public to stay away from the creek and river during the cleanup. It also said people shouldn’t eat fish from the waterways or have contact with the water, and farmers and homeowners who use the water for irrigation or livestock should stop.

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