On the third anniversary of Kalamazoo

July 25, 2013 marks the third anniversary of the Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan.


July 25, 2013 marks the third anniversary of the Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan.

Despite numerous alarms from their automated leak detection system, the spill went undiscovered and unaddressed by Enbridge for almost 17 hours.

Not until the Edmonton control centre was notified of the rupture via a telephone call to their emergency line, were the remotely controlled valves of the pipeline closed by control room staff.

By then more than three million litres of bitumen had spilled into an adjacent wetland and then into Talmadge Creek, eventually making its way into the Kalamazoo River.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the spill stated the rupture and prolonged release were attributed to “pervasive organizational failures” at Enbridge that included deficient pipeline integrity management procedures; inadequate training of control centre personnel; insufficient public awareness and education programs; and an ineffective emergency response.

Can Enbridge Northern Gateway be trusted to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen on their proposed Northern Gateway pipelines?

Through the Joint Review Panel (JRP) process for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines project and with research I have done outside of it, I have followed the developments of the Kalamazoo spill and sought the answer to that question.

As a member of the Fort St. James Sustainability Group and intervenor in the JRP process, I have read material filed as evidence in regard to the Kalamazoo spill.

Following the release of NTSB’s report in July 2012, it was filed into evidence and became a point of examination for many intervenors.  I questioned Enbridge Northern Gateway witnesses on aspects of that report.

I asked what lessons had been learned from the spill, if the lessons had been implemented, and how the lessons would apply to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines so that the same thing doesn’t happen from them.

What I heard from the witnesses was that lessons were learned, some lessons had been implemented by Enbridge, and others would be applied to the design and operation of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.  In answer to the question, they said, you can trust us.

In Enbridge Northern Gateway’s written final argument they made suggestions to the JRP members, who are tasked with making a recommendation to government on whether or not the Northern Gateway project should be approved, that there needs to be a distinction between what should be considered from the Kalamazoo spill in relation to the proposed Northern Gateway project, and what shouldn’t be considered.  The statements read:

“Lessons learned from the Marshall Incident inform how the Project would be designed and operated and, to that extent, discussion of the Marshall Incident is warranted and appropriate.”

“However, to the extent that Intervenors attempt in argument to focus the JRP in any way on an inquiry into the root causes, environmental or other impacts or any other aspects of the Marshall Incident, such arguments should be disregarded.”

In other words, they said again you can trust us, and that only lessons learned are relevant.

The research I did on the Kalamazoo spill outside of the JRP process told a very different story, and lead the Fort St. James Sustainability Group to encourage the JRP through our written and oral arguments to consider and weigh heavily the NTSB report, and other reports on past, current-day and on-going Enbridge pipeline spills and incidents in their deliberations.

In other words, we said don’t trust them.

Through my research I learned that one of the “pervasive organizational failures” at Enbridge is still having an impact today, and will have well into the future if not in perpetuity; that is, ineffective emergency response from a cleanup perspective.

While cleanup allowed parts of the Kalamazoo River to be opened to the public last summer, it is by no means complete.

This year in March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directed Enbridge to dredge the Kalamazoo River to remove sunken oil and oil-containing sediment.

As part of the directive, Enbridge submitted a work plan for recovery of submerged oil and a “Quantification of Submerged Oil Report”.  Their initial Work Plan was rejected by the EPA “due to a substantial lack of detail, particularly with regards to the specific submerged oil removal strategy”.  The EPA also found that the conclusions of their “Quantification of Submerged Oil Report” were not valid as they failed to use the required methodology.  Enbridge estimated the volume of oil remaining as between 1,528 gallons to 8,012 gallons; when the EPA applied the required methodology the volume of oil remaining submerged in the river bottom sediment was estimated at 180,000 gallons.  Of that, only 12,000-18,000 gallons are recoverable; the remaining oil will not be able to be recovered right away without causing significant adverse impacts to the river.

To date, Enbridge is projected to spend $995 million in cleanup costs.  In contrast, Enbridge Northern Gateway has “conservatively” estimated a terrestrial spill from their proposed Northern Gateway project to cost $200 million, and they plan on having only $250 million in insurance.

Can Enbridge Northern Gateway be trusted to ensure cleanup of a spill from the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines will be done more effectively than that of the Michigan spill?

With more than three years of cleanup experience for the Kalamazoo spill, does practice make perfect?

Not when you consider how much oil will be left in the river.

Two other “pervasive organizational failures” also warranted research: deficient pipeline integrity management and inadequate emergency response from a leak detection perspective.

It cannot go without mentioning that, in Canada, of the last nine Enbridge spills listed by the NEB prior to the Kalamazoo spill, eight had a root cause of deficiencies in pipeline integrity.

After the Kalamazoo spill, at least six of the seven releases, the most recent being last month, had deficiencies in pipeline integrity.

Of the seven spills after the Kalamazoo spill, at least five went undetected by their automated leak detection system.

Both of these “pervasive organizational failures” were attributed to a number of spills in the U.S. before and after the Kalamazoo spill.

Can Enbridge Northern Gateway be trusted to ensure pipeline integrity and leak detection are managed to a higher degree of confidence for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines, than that of the Michigan pipeline and other Enbridge pipelines that have had spills?  Why haven’t lessons learned been implemented?

My research also brought to light that while replacing the pipeline that spilled into the Kalamazoo, last month Enbridge was found in non-compliance of two of their permits by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, for releasing an untold amount of a reddish effluent into North Ore Creek.

The effluent release was filmed by a member of the public and submitted to the government agency; it was not reported by Enbridge.

In addition, there were 11 other findings of non-compliance.

Can Enbridge Northern Gateway be trusted to ensure the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines are built safely, unlike the replacement of the Michigan pipeline?

Only if the public keeps their eyes on them, and the government regulators do their job.

On June 24, 2013, while talking to the CBC about the public’s concerns and pipeline safety, John Carruthers, President of Northern Gateway Pipelines, said “that’s the key question that people want answered: Can the project be built and operated safely?

“It’s a key question for British Columbians…We need to build their trust.”

The Kalamazoo River spill is now in its fourth year of cleanup.

Despite lessons learned, history has repeated itself through at least 12 Enbridge spills since that incident.

The non-compliances in construction of the Michigan pipeline replacement are troubling.

I do not trust that Enbridge Northern Gateway can build and operate their proposed Northern Gateway pipelines safely.  Nor can they build my trust.

I ask you, can they build yours?

Brenda Gouglas

Fort St. James


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