Loraine Little, spokesperson for Enbridge visited Fort St. James to present on the company’s clean up and response efforts in Michigan after a spill in 2010.
The spill Enbridge dealt with near Marshal, Michigan took place in July of 2010, and the river was only recently opened up to recreational traffic.
The spill has generated a lot of controversy for the company, and a report regarding the cause and time lapse for discovery and response is expected to be released within a couple of weeks.
The report will be done by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).
The sunny evening session in Fort drew a small crowd with questions for Enbridge.
While many of the questions centred around the events leading up to the spill in Kalamazoo and the long time it may have taken for detection of the leak, this was something neither Little nor the other spokesperson Michele Peret, were willing to discuss.
“Just to be clear, it is the NTSB that has told us not to talk, Loraine and I would love to talk,” said Peret.
While the NTSB later said they have asked Enbridge and other parties in the investigation not to discuss anything which relates to the report they have not released, Peter Knudson, spokesperson for the NTSB, did say the company is allowed to give information which the NTSB has already released.
But “it can be a little tricky because we’ve asked them to not put a spin on it or to try to analyze that information, that’s the role of the NTSB,” he said. “The vast majority of parties simply choose not to talk about the investigation until our investigation is complete and we’ve made the determination of probable cause.”
Part of the problem being the parties can then be drawn into discussions about what the information released means, and they’ve been asked to stay away from those types of discussions, explained Knudson.
“Enbridge is doing what almost all the parties do in this case,” he said.
This lack of the ability to discuss the reported 17-hour delay before leak detection and possible issues around NTSB information about control room staff being unable to identify alarms going off as a leak led to frustration for many at the meeting.
However, there was also a lot of discussion about the information the company did present.
In contrast to some of the criticisms which came out against the company after the Michigan spill, Enbridge presented information on the positive work they had done to help the community and clean up the river and area.
Little said much of the oil was actually recovered in the line and only an estimated 8,000 barrels made its way into a creek and then into the Kalamazoo River.
The majority of this oil is now believed to have been cleaned up, according to Little, through processes such as stirring up the river bottom with backhoes, surface booms and vacuuming oil off the top of the water and excavating banks contaminated with oil then replacing them.
Initial difficulty in clean-up resulted from the river being in a state of flood when the spill happened, leading to more mixing of the oil into the water.
The oil remaining in the river system would now be in smaller globules the size of a pinky finger, a pencil eraser, or flecks the size of pepper, according to Little. The company has set up cleaning stations next to river access points with wipes for people to clean their skin if they come into contact with the oil.
The economic impact on the community seemed to be more positive than negative, from the presentation given, as accommodations were filled to capacity in the area for a long period of time due to all of the personnel doing clean up.
Impacts on tourism were not discussed in detail, but the river has only recently reopened to recreational use.
Industry in the area is still operating, according to Little and she said, “it’s basically life as usual in Marshall.”
The response efforts saw about 2,500 personnel on site at the peak, creating an influx of people in the area and there are still about 225 people continuing with clean up and monitoring in the area. Extra equipment and some land have already been donated back to the community and local community groups.
The company purchased some properties along the river, and in all the company ended up purchasing 150 homes from residents who wanted to sell.
The benefits to the community presented by Enbridge did not satisfy Brenda Gouglas, however.
“I don’t want your used shovels,” said Gouglas. “I want people to be here because they want to be here.”
The cleanup reportedly treated and released an estimated 6,000 animals, with a survival rate for those treated at more than 96 per cent.
No estimates of animal populations before the spill and after were available, according to Little, so it is unclear what impact the spill had on populations overalll, as numbers of animals killed or displaced by the spill were not reported.
One area of interest to the public present was the ability of the company to perform clean up operations in winter months.
While Little said the winter conditions did actually allow them to get into some swampy areas with equipment to clean up oil, it did mean clean up in the river itself could not take place.
She did not know which species of fish were impacted by the spill, and did not know whether any of them were river-bed spawners and therefore impacted by the clean up activities such as stirring up the bottom. Peret and Little offered to get back to the community on the question, but no answer was given prior to press time.
There were some questions for Peret on the more recent spill from a pumping station near Elk Point, Alta..
She said the spill was on a newer pipeline, with the spill being caused by a faulty gasket.
The pipeline in question was monitored from Edmonton, which is where the proposed Northern Gateway would be monitored, and Peret said the line was shut down likely within 10 minutes. The gasket problem resulted in a spill of an estimated 230,000 litres of oil.
A public opinion open house will be held by the District of Fort St. James to get feedback from the community on the proposed Northern Gateway Project at the Music Makers Hall on Wednesday, July 11 from 2-7 p.m..
Mayor and council have agreed to discuss taking a stand on the proposed pipeline and will be taking input from the community in order to do so.
Previous stories on Enbridge and Northern Gateway: