Earlier this week, an oil pipeline beneath Marshall, Michigan (about 70 miles west of Ann Arbor), burst and released between 800,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek, a small tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The oil quickly flowed into the river and has travelled 35 miles downstream, where it is about 60 miles from Lake Michigan. The pipeline has been shut off so no more oil should be released into the river, but the pipeline is underground and the EPA has not confirmed whether the oil has indeed stopped entering the stream.
Visit www.nwf.org/MichiganOilSpill for more on the disaster.
Federal and state officials are working with the pipeline owner, Enbridge, to try to contain the spill, recover the oil, and protect and rehabilitate damaged wildlife. U.S. EPA is the incident commander for the spill. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and the Michigan DNRE also are part of the response team.
As of noon today (Thursday), federal and state officials believe that they have largely contained the spill in Morrow Lake, an impoundment of the Morrow Dam just east of Kalamazoo. They say that they have removed approximately 2,500 barrels of oil from the river, or about 10 percent of the spill.
NWF staff on site this morning verified that the spill did not appear to have gotten to the dam. Officials are also making contingency plans for actions at Lake Allegan, another 30 miles downstream from Morrow Pond (near Allegan), if the spill is not contained earlier. Despite comments by Governor Granholm this morning indicating otherwise, officials appear to be confident that the spill will not reach Lake Michigan or the wetlands complexes near Saugatuck. However, the damage to the areas along the Kalamazoo River is severe. Toxic fumes have made evacuations necessary and residents along the river have been warned to boil their water before using it. Oiled birds and dead fish have been discovered, but there is little information about the extent of the wildlife damage; the pipeline company, Enbridge, appears to be concealing that.
Although this spill is very small compared to the Gulf spill, it has been called the largest oil spill in the Midwest. To provide a sense of perspective, the Kalamazoo River spill is about 10 percent of the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. Because it is in a medium-sized river, the spill is highly concentrated and will stay that way until it is removed or diffuses in Morrow Lake, Lake Allegan, and Lake Michigan itself.
National and regional media have been reporting on the spill, including the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press. NWF has issued a statement. Our office has a team of people on the ground in Marshall, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo tracking the spill and the wildlife recovery efforts.
As we learned from the Gulf disaster, this is all unfolding rapidly and we are still learning critical information. We have hopes that despite its size, this spill will be quickly contained and much of the oil slick removed. The impacts on the river and its wildlife are still unknown; I believe we’ll be dealing with those impacts for years.