Three Years Later: EPA Continues to Clean Up Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Three years ago today, EPA responded to one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.  When we arrived on scene, oil from a ruptured pipeline was pouring into the Kalamazoo River – a Great Lakes tributary.

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Site of the 2010 Enbridge oil pipeline spill

At the time of the spill, it was raining hard and oil was carried quickly downstream in the fast-moving river – flowing over dams and flooding riverbanks.

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Despite these difficult conditions, oil spill response teams were able to contain the spill within 48 hours — 80 river miles from Lake Michigan.

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Oil spill response workers on the Kalamazoo River

EPA led this oil spill response and cleanup – directing the efforts of the responsible party (Enbridge) and more than 30 federal, state and local agencies.

EPA on-scene coordinators directing the oil spill response

EPA on-scene coordinators directing the oil spill response

More than 500 responders worked around the clock in the days immediately following the spill and, within a week, the number of oil spill workers expanded to 1,300.  Some local restaurants ran out of food and the nearest available hotel rooms were 50 miles away. Within a month, over 2,000 workers were working three shifts to clean up the oil spill.

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Cleaning up the Enbridge oil spill on the Kalamazoo River

As soon as the spill was contained, EPA held a public meeting to update the local community and explain that the cleanup process would be lengthy. EPA promised to stay until the job was done.

Hundreds of residents attended a public meeting

Hundreds of residents attended a public meeting

EPA estimates that, to date, more than 1.1 million gallons of oil and water have been recovered from the river. More than 180,000 cubic yards of soil and debris have been removed.

Cleaning up oil near the site of the pipeline rupture

Cleaning up oil near the site of the pipeline rupture

After 22 months of work, the Kalamazoo River was cleaned up to a point where it could be reopened for recreational activities.  I was fortunate to be able to join the first group of kayakers paddling on the newly reopened river – on a sunny morning in April.

April 18, 2012: the Kalamazoo River reopens after the oil spill

April 18, 2012: the Kalamazoo River reopens after the oil spill

The cleanup is not complete.  From time to time, oily sheen is still visible in some parts of the river.  To address this problem, EPA recently ordered Enbridge to dredge an additional 350,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment.

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Three years after the spill, oily sheen is sometimes visible on the Kalamazoo River

Three years ago, we promised that EPA would stay until the job was done.  We have kept that promise and will continue to work with our state and local partners to make sure that this beautiful river recovers from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill.

Susan Hedman is the administrator of EPA’s Chicago regional office, where she directs the Agency’s operations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. She also oversees EPA’s Great Lakes programs. Susan has a Ph.D. from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, a M.A. from the La Follette School of Public Affairs and a J.D. from the School of Law at the University of Wisconsin. She has over 30 years of experience working on environmental and energy issues.