To the editor:
On July 26, 2010, while most U.S. news outlets focused on cleanup of the the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, another spill began in Michigan. A pipeline operated by the U.S. branch of Enridge Inc. ruptured and spilled into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall; it flowed from there into the Kalamazoo River, which empties into Lake Michigan.
Enbridge is the same company that wants to build and operate the Keystone pipeline; what spilled from Enridge pipeline “6B” was not conventional crude oil, but diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from a Canadian tar sands field. After two years of cleanup costing over $800 million, the spill seems contained; but two miles of Talmadge Creek and 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River are not what they were before. One reason is that the dilbit sank out of sight and settled on the bottom as its diluents (including benzine) evaporated. A more important reason is that our government has 500 inspectors to watch 2.5 million miles of pipelines in the U.S. We depend too much on self-reporting by the pipeline owners and operators (McGowan and Song, “Federal Agency Blames 'Complete Breakdown of Safety at Enbridge' for 2010 Oil Spill”).
Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation sought a fine of $3.7 million against Endbridge for violations of pipeline safety regulations. Environmental regulators in Canada have growing concern about their own piece of the Keystone pipeline and about alternative pipelines to one or more of their coasts (Calgary Herald, July 11th, 2012: “B.C.’s premier calls Enbridge’s U.S. oil pipeline spill disgraceful”). We, too, should be concerned.
Imagine Homer Simpson’s work day at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant: you’ll have a similar impression from the account of Enbridge operators taking 17 hours after the first alarm signals to close 6B and acknowledge a spill. If you think the federal government is over-regulating hazardous industries, or that people or fresh water supplies near pipelines are in good hands, you won’t find support in the story of Enbridge 6B. Over a period of at least five years, its operators skirted prudent maintenance of their pipelines; government regulators granted waivers and postponements of needed repairs; the cleanup was mishandled by responders who thought they were dealing with conventional crude oil; some of Marshall’s residents have small consolation in what Enbridge paid for their lost homes and business property; and those who remain have lingering questions about the safety of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River (McGowan and Song, “The Dilbit Disaster”).
Do we want the same worries about the Ogallala Aquifer? Shouldn’t we look for ways to reduce the burning of fossil fuels before global warming is uncontrollable?