Kalamazoo River Reopens, 23 Months after Spill, But Submerged Oil Remains

Kalamazoo River Reopens, 23 Months after Spill, But Submerged Oil Remains

The river is not yet free of the heavy oil that was spilled—Canadian diluted bitumen, or dilbit. Removing what remains submerged could take years.

By Elizabeth McGowan, InsideClimate News

About 34 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Southeastern Michigan were opened to the public Thursday, almost two years after the most expensive oil pipeline spill in U.S. history dumped more than 1 million gallons of heavy Canadian crude into an adjoining creek.

Crews have been cleaning the waterway since July 26, 2010, when a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, the U.S. branch of Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, was discovered in wetlands in Marshall, Mich. The Canadian crude oil, known as diluted bitumen, contaminated more than two miles of Talmadge Creek and about 36 miles of the Kalamazoo, forcing people to flee their homes because of the overpowering smells.

The cost of the cleanup has now reached at least $765 million, making it the most expensive oil pipeline spill since the government began keeping records in 1968. Enbridge is responsible for all of the cost, with most of the cost being paid by its insurance company.

With Thursday’s opening, all but a short stretch of the river known as the Morrow Lake delta is now available for recreation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That delta area, at the western edge of the contaminated section and near the city of Kalamazoo, remains closed to the public.

Although people can once again swim and boat on the Kalamazoo, that doesn’t mean the river is oil-free. Cleanup of the remaining oil will continue in the Morrow Lake delta and other low spots along the river bottom. EPA officials in Marshall have told InsideClimate News that removing the rest of the oil could take months or years.

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