A lot of work ahead in Michigan oil cleanup
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Monday, 02 August 2010 10:34
A week after a pipeline ruptured and sent up to 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, signs of the spill remain achingly visible.

Banks and shrubs are blackened in a thick gook. Rainbow ribbons cover the river's surface. And the acrid smell of oil, health officials said Sunday, still causes respiratory problems, headaches and nausea for the residents who live near the spill.

Four more people have been treated in emergency rooms, raising the total to 26, said Jim Rutherford, Calhoun County health officer.

But environmental officials and the owners of the pipe, Enbridge Energy Partners, struck a positive tone about the cleanup and its future, saying for the first time Sunday that a little more than half of the oil has been removed.

"We are seeing significant progress, but there is a lot of work ahead," said Mark Durno, the Environmental Protection Agency's deputy incident commander for the site.

More than 60,000 feet of booms, which repel water and absorb oil, snake across the river. The booms are expected to be the company's primary weapon against the leak for several weeks or even months, environmental and company officials said Sunday.

A complete cleanup could take months or even years, officials said.

Once sections of the river and its tributaries are purged of a bulk of the oil, the company plans to cover the water's surface with absorbent mats to remove the oily film, Enbridge President and CEO Patrick Daniel said Sunday. Water and soil tests would then determine what additional steps would need to be taken.

"We are absolutely committed to doing right and to the satisfaction of the people in the surrounding area," Daniel said. "We are going to restore this river and continue to be a part of this community, which we have since 1969."

It was still unknown Sunday evening exactly what caused the leak. Today, Enbridge is expected to retrieve and ship a 140-foot section of the pipe to Washington, D.C., so it can be analyzed by federal investigators, said Matthew Nicholson, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees oil pipelines through its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
On Saturday, it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Transportation had repeatedly warned the company to address the safety and performance of its 1,900-mile Lakehead pipeline system, which is where the spill occurred.

Steve Wuori, executive vice president of Enbridge's Liquids Pipelines, said Sunday that the company cooperated with federal officials and received only warning letters, "the lowest level of notice they give to a pipeline operator."

Neither environmental or Enbridge officials were able to provide a date for when the cleanup would be done.

"It's going to be a long time," Durno said.

That's tough news for residents.

After spending nearly a week in a hotel, Deborah Walters, 53, returned to her home along the Kalamazoo River near Marshall on Sunday with no idea about her plans.

"I don't know," she said. "Nobody does."

Next door, Carol and Lynn Gildea can't believe the catastrophe behind their home. Cattails are steeped in oil.

They wonder when -- if ever -- they'll be able to allow family swims, kayaking and fishing. "We'll miss all that," Lynn Gildea said.
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