KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — It has been 12 years since one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S history.
It happened in West Michigan in a creek along the Kalamazoo River, due to an Enbridge Energy pipeline bursting.
Today, the river looks a lot different than it did 12 years ago when at least one million gallons of crude oil gushed into Talmadge Creek and on to the Kalamazoo River.
People who saw it during that time said the river ran black.
“We remember it well because it did impact this whole area very significantly,” said Jeff Heppler, the Village of Augusta’s Chief of Police and Village Manager.
On July 25, 2010, just before 6 p.m., Enbridge Energy’s Line 6-B carrying diluted bitumen burst near Marshall and polluted almost 40 river miles.
“It came in that there was an odor, strong odor coming from the river. It then was determined that a pipe over in Marshall had ruptured and then spilled oil into the creek that ran into the Kalamazoo River, and then that flowed and carried it down in this direction,” said Heppler.
Heppler said he was notified of the incident that Sunday evening.
While he said it took time for Enbridge to determine what had happened, the work to clean it up started right away.
“We went over to see what we could do to help to stop this thing from getting this far. The Kalamazoo River at that time had very little access to it, so it made it very difficult for Enbridge to try to get this thing under control,” said Heppler.
Multiple booms were installed to try to help catch the oil from spreading further down the river, and several access points were also added.
The damage had a huge impact on the communities along the river.
“It did impact a lot of people. There was a time when you couldn’t be down by the river for several weeks. The smell was just overwhelming,” said Heppler.
He said people had to move out of their homes and businesses were shut down.
His business halted during their busiest time of the year.
“We went from very busy to no business at all. Basically we shut down for a couple of weeks or so, so it did impact us,” said Heppler.
Enbridge Energy said since then six new boat slips and/or parks have been added.
“The Marshall incident of 12 years ago transformed how we think about safety and how we operate. The feedback and support of area residents helped guide our steps and shape the responsive company we are today. Safety and environmental protection of our communities and waterways is our number one priority. We cannot operate without that ethic. What we learned from the incident inspires us and informs the proactive steps we take today.
Since then we have invested more than $8 billion on maintenance, inspection and leak detection across our crude oil pipeline system, leading to record safety performance across our liquids pipeline system.
Life takes energy, and Michiganders can rely on our system to deliver it safely while implementing measures that help protect our shared environment. We are part of Michigan’s history and look forward to being a vital partner of its safe and healthy energy future.”
While Heppler said there was hesitation to be along and in the river for a while, he believes it has been getting back to normal.
“You see the wildlife is back in it now. They did a lot of cleanup with the animals, the birds and whatnot, to do what they can for them. I think it is getting back to normal,” said Heppler.
FOX 17 News also reached out to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy who also provided a statement regarding the spill 12 years ago.
The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is responsible for ensuring the complete investigation of residual effects of the July 2010 oil spill near Marshall, Michigan, along with long-term remediation and restoration of affected areas to meet state law requirements and satisfy all terms of the Consent Judgment entered by the Calhoun County Circuit Court between EGLE and Enbridge Energy in 2015.
Water Resources Division staff have successfully overseen completion of ecological restoration and monitoring required under the Consent Judgment to ensure health of all impacted aquatic ecosystems including the Kalamazoo River, Talmadge Creek, and their associated floodplain and wetlands, with the goal of returning ecosystem health to at least pre-spill condition.
EGLE and its sister agency, the Department of Natural Resources, are also Natural Resource Trustees (along with the Michigan Department of Attorney General) designated to participate in a Trustee Council which includes federal and tribal representatives with an interest in ensuring that Enbridge Energy returns the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River ecosystems to pre-spill conditions. Further detail on those ongoing activities can be found here: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/es/ec/nrda/MichiganEnbridge/ [gcc02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com]
Energy companies have also started hosting a pipeline training school to keep local law enforcement and government agencies informed in case of an emergency. Heppler said he attends it every single year.
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