Today is the two-year anniversary of the worst pipeline oil spill in U.S. history. One so bad, it’s still not cleaned up. And the company involved—called “Keystone Kops” by the U.S. government—wants to build even ...
Today is the two-year anniversary of the worst pipeline oil spill in U.S. history. One so bad, it’s still not cleaned up. And the company involved—called “Keystone Kops” by the U.S. government—wants to build even more risky pipelines for dangerous tar sands oil.
Two years ago today, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured, spilling
more than 3 million litres of oil into a small tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Not just any oil, either. Tar sands oil.
The spill sickened hundreds, forced 150 families from their homes permanently, and fouled 55km of the river downstream. It was the most expensive onshore spill in U.S. history with cleanup costs approaching $1 billion. This wasn’t just an unfortunate accident, but a preventable disaster, brought to the town by Enbridge, the same company that wants to build a long pipeline through northern Alberta and B.C. to send tar sands oil to China.
In a damning report released
just weeks ago, the U.S. Government spelled out Enbridge’s negligence in vivid detail. Here are some of its findings.
Enbridge could have prevented the spill. Enbridge failed to keep the pipe in good enough condition to operate safely, allowing for defects and cracks to go unrepaired. When it inspected the pipe, it repeatedly found and documented many ‘crack-like features’. These it chose not to repair. It was one of these cracks, noted in three separate inspections over the course of a decade, which eventually burst under normal operating conditions.
Enbridge made the spill worse after it happened. The pipe ruptured on the evening of July 25th, but it took 17 hours before the company noticed it was dumping millions of litres of oil. The operators in the Edmonton control room had plenty of evidence a spill was taking place, but instead ignored alarms. In fact, they made a bad situation worse by breaking their own safety rules to turn the pumps back on—not once, but twice—before finally learning of the leak from a local worker in Michigan who called it in. In Canada, there are no such people for huge stretches of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to pick up the phone.
Enbridge bungled the clean-up. It wasn’t prepared for the spill. It didn’t have proper plans and cleanup equipment, and failed to inform local authorities like the fire department that the pipeline even existed. It also failed to admit until a week later that the pipeline wasn’t carrying normal oil, but much nastier diluted tar-sands bitumen. Tar sands oil is worse than other oil because it sinks instead of floating, and the toxic chemicals in the sludge evaporated, which made people sick.
No wonder people are worried about spills from Northern Gateway hurting northern Alberta and B.C. They’re more worried knowing the recent federal budget weakened a slew of environmental laws designed to protect citizens from such risky projects to boot.
The anniversary of the Enbridge spill also comes as Canada's premiers meet in Halifax, in part to talk energy. Already, the environmental risks to B.C.’s fragile northern coast and land are a topic of hot debate. It’s no wonder. Enbridge’s pipeline would cross hundreds of rivers and streams, before loading up super-tankers the size of the Empire State Building to navigate some of the most dangerous tides on earth. And B.C. isn’t alone in being asked to risk another Enbridge spill.
Ontario and Quebec are also at risk. Enbridge wants to send tar sands oil through another of its aging pipelines—very similar to the one that burst in Michigan—from Sarnia to Montreal. This pipeline crosses all of the major rivers flowing into Canada’s lower Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence river.
On this anniversary, Canadians who want to prevent pollution have a choice. We can listen to the victims of Enbridge’s spill in Michigan and the U.S. government’s findings into the spill. Or we can trust Enbridge, which took 17 hours to realize one of its own pipelines was gushing tar sands oil, and whose own reports record more than 800 “incidents” in the last ten years.