A ruptured 30-inch pipeline owned by Enbridge has released as much as one million gallons (3.7 million litres) of oil into the Kalamazoo river in southern Michigan. Dozens of residents have been evacuated along the river, and local officials have called for the evacuation of several dozen homes (to prevent residents from inhaling benzene) and for other residents to avoid drinking or cooking with well water. Containment efforts have been focused on keeping the oil from entering Lake Michigan, which the governor of Michigan warned would be a 'tragedy of historic proportions'. At the moment, federal EPA officials are declaring that the spill has been contained, well short of reaching Lake Michigan - an account challenged by at least one emergency response official.
Appearing to have taken notes from the B.P. debacle, Enbridge has intensified its cleanup efforts even as their CEO apologized for "the mess that we have made" and pledged to "spend whatever it takes" to clean the spill. Good words, but the company is taking a beating from politicians, with the governor of Michigan calling Enbridge's initial response "wholly inadequate" and the mayor of Chicago, in perhaps a bit of regional political grandstanding, calling for a criminal investigation.
While the exact cause is not yet known, there is ample documentation of the substantial concern that federal regulators had for corrosion and possible rupturing of the 41-year-old pipe. A critical question, and one that is sure to be a focus of subsequent investigations, is the apparent lag time between the first reports of a spill made by area residents, the confirmation of the spill by Enbridge, and the actual reporting of the spill by Enbridge. The Chicago Tribune reports that Enbridge may not have reported the spill until 12 hours after residents began reporting it.
Perhaps most damaging to Enbridge, however, is the heat of the media's spotlight. The company's history of regulatory issues is being dissected and parsed in broad daylight, with pieces like that by the Associated Press detailing some of Enbridge's recent mishaps and misdeeds. The reality of the spill, Enbridge's apparently less-than-satisfactory response to it, and the public airing of Enbridge's regulatory dirty laundry is giving people here in B.C. even more reason to push back against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The spill - which is being described as one of the largest in the history of the midwestern U.S. - will take months to clean up, according to government officials.
Remember this when Enbridge comes knocking here in B.C., folks.