The Verdict is Here for Enbridge Energy Tar Sands Oil Spill

NWF photo – rescued turtle covered in tar sands oil from the Kalamazoo River
For the past two years, Enbridge Energy has been allowed to hide from any serious question about the cause of their 1 million-gallon tar sands spill into the Kalamazoo River watershed by simply saying “the investigation is ongoing”.

Enbridge was referring to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the July 2010, Marshall, Mich. spill. This tar sands spill killed an unknown number of wildlife, sickened communities and polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways—for generations to come.

Enbridge can no longer hide behind the unanswered questions and must now face the reality of having the largest inland tar sands oil spill in history. Not only do people want answers from Enbridge, but we also want solutions from the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

NTSB’s investigation revealed that Enbridge demonstrated gross negligence in maintaining their pipelines along with inept operators at their controls. All of this aided in the largest inland tar sands oil spills in history, which went undetected and unreported for nearly 17 hours. The disaster was made worse by Enbridge not having adequate response plans in place and not properly notifying first responders of possible issues on the line.

Not only did this investigation answer some of the most basic questions, it is also going to be the basis for many decisions about fines, penalties and even criminal actions towards Enbridge.

NTSB also revealed that Enbridge has had a detailed history of failure and continues to not act on that failure. Matt Nicholson, pipeline investigator with the federal safety board added this comment:

“Lessons are being lost” on Enbridge…

Despite the obvious failure and neglect, the State of Michigan and the federal government are allowing Enbridge Energy to build an additional pipeline along this decrepit pipeline, which will have the ability to triple the amount of tar sands oil flowing through the Great Lakes.

For the National Wildlife Federation, who has been on the ground responding to this disaster since the first few days, these basic needs and actions are clear and most urgent:

  • Line 6B should not be in operation until all structural defects are repaired and Enbridge should not be allowed to build a new and larger pipeline alongside Line 6B.
    One Year Later, Michigan Tar Sands Oil Spill - Ceresco Dam
    NWF photo: Tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River, one year later.
  • Enbridge should be required to run an integrity inspection on all operating pipelines within the US, by a third party.
  • No tar sands pipelines should be approved for construction until the National Academy of Sciences has concluded a study on how transportation of diluted bitumen impacts current pipelines.
  • Any pipeline operator transporting this product should be required to develop alternative response plans; taking into account the unique nature of the toxic heavy bitumen and the need for increased relationships with first responders.
  • A thorough health study should be conducted on how a release of diluted bitumen impacts wildlife and human health—short and long term.
  • Integrity management programs need to be overhauled and there needs to be increased oversight, on the part of PHMSA, during pipeline inspections and when reviewing emergency response plans.

To learn more about tar sands pipelines and ways to support alternative energy solutions, please visit NWF’s Action Fund Center.