Clean-up continues through winter as oil spill damage lingers
LANSING — Cleanup efforts are still under way more than six months after 819,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Talmadge Creek near Marshall and into the Kalamazoo River, covering wildlife and the nearby environment with sludge.
Remediation efforts have slowed for the winter but the clean-up crew will continue to sample sediment and water for benzene and other harmful toxins, said Mark Durno, the Environmental Protection Agency deputy incident commander for the spill.
Containment boom lines were removed because of freezing weather conditions, but below-freezing temperatures actually help with some clean-up efforts such as oil removal, because oiled soils become solidified and easier to remove, according to the EPA, and low-lying sites become more accessible.
The ruptured pipeline, operated by Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners, carried crude oil 286 miles from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.
The Ceresco spill was the largest ever recorded in Michigan, according to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.
As of mid-December, cleanup workers from Enbridge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had collected 13,750,922 gallons of oily water, the EPA said. The company estimates that 699,000 gallons of oil will be salvaged and put back into commercial use.
“All the oil that could be put back in commercial use went back to the Enbridge facility,” said Durno.
Immediate cleanup after the spill involved collecting and refining oil, decontaminating riverbanks, building a wildlife rehabilitation center that cleaned more than 2,000 animals, monitoring the environment for toxins and hiring more than 2,000 contract workers, Enbridge public information officer Kevin O’Connor said.
In spring when the ice begins to thaw, Enbridge will replace containment boom lines, continue monitoring for toxins and erosion, and check the river bottom for submerged oil, Durno said.
Enbridge and the EPA also will develop work plans to determine when to remove any residual oil that’s found and when to leave it to avoid further environmental disturbances that may harm wildlife.
So far, spill cleanup has gone well, Enbridge’s O’Connor said.
“The process that’s been involved to get this back to where it is has been is pretty astounding,” O’Connor said. “We certainly had issues here and there, but, by and large, it’s gone really well.”
Those clean-up efforts don’t come cheap.
“The EPA alone has spent over $20 million, which we billed to Enbridge. I can only imagine what Enbridge’s costs are,” Durno said.
The company’s first estimate came to about $400 million before government fines and lawsuits. New estimates reached $550 million, Enbridge project director John Sobojinski said.
The cause of the spill remains unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to finish studying the pipe’s rupture and interviewing Enbridge employees to get a clear picture of the events leading up to the spill this year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is completing a long-term damage assessment to evaluate the ecological damage to the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River systems.
Federal and state agencies will continue to oversee Enbridge’s assessment, monitoring any remediation until the environment has been restored to what it was before the spill, according to Durno. He anticipates the cleanup will continue throughout the spring and summer, and possibly even longer.
“Our hope is that the ecosystem recovers within a couple years,” Durno said. Overall, he said he’s optimistic about the response to the spill, which he called nationally significant.
Monitoring the environment for damage will continue for at least the next several years, said DNRE public information officer Mary Detloff.
The area’s groundwater flows into the river, making monitoring easier, and tests have shown no groundwater contamination yet, Detloff said, but added, “There are groundwater issues we’ll be monitoring for years.
“We would hope that within the next five years, there’s a complete recovery of the ecosystem there.”