Three years after Kalamazoo spill, Enbridge to BC: "You can trust us." Can we?

On the third year anniversary of the Enbridge, Inc. oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, due to "pervasive organizational failures", reflections on the company's proposal to build a pipeline through British Columbia.

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While cleanup allowed parts of the Kalamazoo River to be opened to the public last summer, it is by no means complete because oil recovery methods used by Enbridge have proven to be ineffective in the removal of all the spilled bitumen. 

On March 14, 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Enbridge back to the Kalamazoo River to remove sunken oil and oil-containing sediment. 

As part of the March 14 Directive, Enbridge submitted a Work Plan for recovery of submerged oil.  On April 11, 2013 the U.S. EPA notified Enbridge that their Work Plan had been evaluated, and that the plan could not be approved “due to a substantial lack of detail, particularly with regards to the specific submerged oil removal strategy”.  

The Work Plan, as submitted, was not sufficient to describe the removal action and/or to allow the U.S. EPA to properly evaluate Enbridge’s removal and assessment plan.  As a result, the Work Plan was rejected in whole.  On May 1, 2013 Enbridge resubmitted their work plan and it was approved by the EPA May 8, 2013. 

However, also on May 8, 2013, the EPA notified Enbridge they had reviewed their “Quantification of Submerged Oil Report”; that the conclusions in Enbridge’s report were not valid; and that Enbridge had failed to use the methodology required by the Directive to determine the volume of submerged oil.

 It was found that the report significantly underestimated the volume of submerged oil which remains in the Kalamazoo River.  Enbridge estimated the volume as between 1,528 gallons to 8,012 gallons.  When the U.S. EPA applied the methodology required by the Directive the estimated volume of oil remaining submerged in the river bottom sediment was estimated at 180,000 (± 100,000) gallons, which is as much as 100 times higher than the Enbridge estimated volume.  

The EPA has ordered Enbridge to remove the remaining recoverable oil, about 12,000-18,000 gallons, by dredging areas of the Kalamazoo River; the dredging work must be completed by December 31, 2013.  The 162,000 to 168,000 gallons of oil that will remain in the river after the dredging work is complete will not be able to be recovered right away without causing significant adverse impacts to the river. 

To date, Enbridge is projected to spend $995 million in cleanup costs, above what is covered by their insurance.  It is interesting to note that Enbridge Northern Gateway “conservatively” estimated a terrestrial spill from their proposed Northern Gateway project to cost $200 million, and that they plan on having $250 million in insurance. 

An intervenor’s suggestion that they be required to have $1 billion in insurance met with sharp criticism from Enbridge Northern Gateway in their written final argument.  Enbridge has also rejected the NEB’s demand to have almost $1 billion in liability coverage set aside for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, instead calling for an industry-bankrolled fund that would help pay for cleanup in the case of “a catastrophic oil release” from a Canadian pipeline.

Can Enbridge Northern Gateway be trusted to ensure that cleanup of a spill from the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines will be done more effectively than that of the Michigan spill? With more than three years of cleanup experience for the Marshall spill, does practice make perfect?  It won’t when you consider how much oil will be left behind after the clean-up is considered complete in the Kalamazoo.

Two other “pervasive organizational failures” attributed to the Marshall spill also warranted research: deficient pipeline integrity management, which resulted in the rupture, and inadequate emergency response from a leak detection perspective that resulted in the magnitude of the spill. 

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