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Enbridge Kalamazoo oil spill victim holds community meeting spellbound


Michelle BarlondSmith in a photo by Mike Chisholm

Michelle BarlondSmith had a blunt assessment of her experience with the 2010 Enbridge oil spill on the Kalamazoo River.  “You get to say goodbye to a lot of friends.”

Speaking to a standing room crowd at Vancouver’s Mt. Pleasant’s Heritage Hall Thursday night, the photographer and former airline worker from Kalamazoo, Michigan recounted the hours and days living along the Kalamazoo River after an Enbridge pipeline spilled almost one million gallons of diluted Alberta oil into the river and along the riverbank.

BarlondSmith used her own photographs of the devastation to the river and wildlife along the river, the subsequent clean-up efforts and the health impacts to provide a first-hand impression of what an oil spill of diluted bitumen can do to a community.

“We had four deaths in first year –two died within two months. I now have said goodbye to 17 people who I met since the oil spill,” said BarlondSmith.  “When these spills happen, there are going to be consequences.”  The Vancouver Observer has not been able to confirm the validity of BarlondSmith's statement that people died as a result of the spill, despite inquiries in Kalamazoo.  There are no other reports of such deaths.

BalondSmith said many of the small communities along the river have been closed down and families have moved away. The trailer park where she lived with 81 families is now a community of 20. Businesses have closed or relocated, tourists stay away and companies considering a move to the area have changed plans. Then there’s the daily impact of a massive clean-up in a normally quiet, tranquil rural community.

“You get used to air boats a lot. They (Enbridge) brought in a lot of people from Louisiana. If you’ve ever been near an air boat, you know it is loud and sends a plume of water up in the air as it races up and down the river,” said BarlondSmith. “You have to deal with helicopters every single day of your life, going over your property five times a day.”

“You get used to speaking to government officials,” said BalondSmith. “They keep asking you if you are feeling well, do you have a headache.”

  She also related stories of neighbours being threatened with arrest if they continued to rescue oiled wildlife. BalondSmith says Enbridge was the only organization allowed to deal with stricken animals.

BalondSmith also commented on the slogan “No pipeline, No tankers, No problem”, which has become a slogan of the anti-Enbridge pipeline caucus. However, she says British Columbians can add another slogan, ‘Remember the Kalamazoo’.

The Thursday evening assembly was one of the first community-wide meetings held in Vancouver to discuss the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the BC coast.

The National Energy Board is holding Joint Review Panel meetings around BC and Alberta to discuss the project.

However, the public was excluded from sitting in on oral statements during the panel hearings in Vancouver this month. ForestEthics advocacy group organized the meeting which drew a cross-section of Vancouverites. The meeting provided a venue for the varied factions opposed to the Northern Gateway Project to meet and discuss the project and provide “an evening of powerful stories that highlight the need for all of us to take a stand to protect our water from oil spills.”

Other speakers at the meeting included 12-year old Ta’kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon Nation just North of Powell River spoke about the significance of the land and environment and the impact an oil spill would have on the region and future generations.

“I want to go back some day to see the spirit and black bears hunting for fish, and I want my great, great grandchildren to be able to practice their culture in this environment.”

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Kalamazoo spill

I stood with Michelle in the early days of the Kalamazoo River spill as a stunned and shocked volunteer. I watched how this company responded to the crisis, and it was frightening. When they should have been responding with a well-thought out emergency plan, they were instead dispatching massive teams of attorneys, PR people, and thugs to twist, intimidate and threaten. They lied to the public about what they had been pushing through the pipeline. They lied to the public about the amount of the spill. And they lied about the devastating affects of exposure to both the tar sands crude and the chemicals used to attempt to clean it up. The devastation to the river, wetlands, water table, wildlife, and the homes and farms in the Kalamazoo River basin will never be the same. Enbridge spent two years crafting ways to create a thin, cosmetic veneer on the affected areas to make it appear 'fixed.' They  well-oiled the gears of public opinion by making donations to strategic companies and organizations in an effective move to silence their critics. Many have lost so much in this disaster, while a key few have locally profited - and paid with their silence. Enbridge has learned a great deal from the spill along the Kalamazoo. Unfortunately it's how to become better at covering up, not cleaning up. They lack the moral compass and coporate integrity to be intrusted with your homelands, your life, your future.


Any questions as to whose side the Govt and Police are on ? Threatened with arrest for attempting to save wildlife ? Those are some so called Police that are in serious need of " reeducation" They are obviously part of the problem . 

Paradigm Shift Please

1.   Railways build nations, pipelines divide them.  We already have transportation technogies that can ship refined products to our ports at prices comparable to pipelines. Just ask Bombardier why the Chinese dropped $400 Million to buy their  Bluetooth (and electrified) railway propulsion technologies.  We recently completed modifications to our railway tunnels through the Rockies to accommodate double-high container cars... making transportation containers leak-proof and refillable/returnable  shouldn't be a tall order...  Tracking them should be as easy as tracking a smartphone.

2.  Building pollution-free processing facilities to refine our bitumens and other energy sources will be expensive but it isn't out of the realm of possibilities and should be done anyways.  Instead of giving our money to foreign horse thieves we should use it to develop those technologies to benefit Canadians...and balance our  budgets instead.

3.  We need a  Harper-proof National Energy Policy.  British Columbia would be a damn good start and we can sell  OUR refined products F O B our ports to the highest bidder!


I agree with Warren. There is

I agree with Warren. There is no need to do it the pipeline way. We can use our critical thinking to come up with something that would protect our nature and environment. Spilling oil is a very dangerous thing and should be the reason to reconsider our energy policy. 

All people in Vancouver should behave in order with their reputation for being the second greenest city in America and support people from Alberta by protesting against prime minister Harper and his energy plan.

Ottawa gave the green light

Ottawa gave the green light for a pipeline to run to teh East Coast. Everyone is too busy hating Indians and saying we are greedy and want more money. We have been fighting Bill C-45 because of the lack of respect for the environment. 

Look at what is happening now. This is what is to become of Canada. This is why Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 passed.  Canadians and the government ridicule our leaders. 

Sooner or later there will be nothing left of our water or land. 


If you want proof of people that have died after the spill and that Enbridges MSDS sheet states a few breaths of this tar sand oil can cause death. You can put two and two together and if you are smart you will get 4. for the proof.