Michigan Grappling with Its Own Oil Spill

A worker lifts oil-covered debris from the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek, Mich. July 27, 2010. At least 877,000 gallons of oil that leaked from an Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline into a Michigan's Kalamazoo river.
AP Photo
Updated 12:53 p.m. ET

Southern Michigan residents are learning that devastating oil spills aren't limited to the Gulf Coast.

Crews were working Wednesday to contain and clean up an estimated 877,000 gallons of oil that coated birds and fish as it poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, one of the state's major waterways.

The company responsible for the leaking pipeline said Wednesday that it is doubling its work force on the containment and cleanup effort.

Officials with Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. made the announcement during a update on the spill. The company had about 200 employees and contractors working on the spill a day earlier.

The Environmental Protection Agency also is bringing in additional contractors.

Oil leaking from a 30-inch pipeline coated birds and fish as it poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, one of the state's major waterways, before it was shut off Monday.

Enbridge estimates 819,000 gallons spilled. The state says it was told during a company briefing an estimated 877,000 gallons spilled.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm toured the area by helicopter Tuesday night and said she wasn't satisfied with the response to the spill. The leak in the 30-inch pipeline, which was built in 1969 and carries about 8 million gallons of oil daily from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, was detected early Monday.

"There needs to be a lot more done," Granholm said. "There are not enough resources on the river right now."

Granholm declared a state of disaster in Calhoun County and potentially affected areas along the river, which eventually bisects the city of Kalamazoo and meanders to Saugatuck, where it empties into Lake Michigan. Officials don't believe oil will spread past a dam upstream of Kalamazoo. The cause of the spill is under investigation.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., said Enbridge was slow in alerting federal authorities of the spill.

Enbridge has said it was detected between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday. Schauer released documents saying the incident was not reported to the National Response Center until about 1:30 p.m. There were calls to area fire departments late Sunday complaining about the "bad smell of natural gas," the documents said.

A message seeking comment was left Wednesday morning with Enbridge, which had scheduled a news conference for later Wednesday morning.

As of late Tuesday, oil was reported in at least 16 miles of the Kalamazoo River downstream of the spill. Company officials said the spill appeared to be contained and oil wouldn't likely drift much more downstream.

Enbridge crews and contractors are using oil skimmers and absorbent booms to minimize its environmental impact.

"This is our responsibility," Enbridge's president and chief executive Patrick D. Daniel said Tuesday evening in Battle Creek. "This is our mess. We're going to clean it up."

Many area residents were surprised to learn that a pipeline was so close to the Great Lakes river.

"I just can't believe they allowed that to happen, and they're not equipped to handle it," said Owen Smith, 53, of Galesburg. Smith lives near the river and stopped at several points far upstream on Tuesday to see what might be headed his way.

The air was pungent with the smell of oil, but health officials said they so far were satisfied with the results from air quality tests. Groundwater testing was expected to begin soon.

Still, health officials warned residents to stay away from the river, saying it should be closed to fishing and other recreational activities, and irrigation. No injuries or illnesses have been reported, but a few households near the spill had been evacuated.

Enbridge said it had about 200 employees and contractors working on the spill, and a center was being set up to help ducks, geese and other wildlife that were coated with oil.

Local, state and federal agencies also were involved, and the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation.

Schauer said Tuesday he discussed the spill with President Barack Obama. Schauer called the spill a "public health crisis," and said he plans to hold hearings to examine the response.

Obama has pledged a swift response to requests for assistance, White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.

The river already faced major pollution issues. An 80-mile segment of the river and five miles of a tributary, Portage Creek, were placed on the federal Superfund list of high-priority hazardous waste sites in 1990. The Kalamazoo site also includes four landfills and several defunct paper mills.