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Federal officials interrupt Enbridge's greenwash of Kalamazoo River tar sands spill

Anthony Swift

Posted October 6, 2012

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Federal officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have pulled the curtain behind Enbridge’s effort to greenwash its tar sands pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. On the same day that Enbridge told its investors that its tar sands spill and cleanup had made the Kalamazoo River cleaner, EPA ordered the Canadian tar sands pipeline company to resume its cleanup of the Kalamazoo River after finding that submerged oil “exists throughout approximately 38 miles of the Kalamazoo.” EPA’s findings, based on technical analysis from prominent scientists from the international oil spill response and recovery community, stand in stark contrast with the alternate reality that Enbridge is selling to investors and the public. Enbridge’s legacy in Kalamazoo was outlined by federal investigators as a company whose poor safety practices and failures to learn from past mistakes which resulted in the most expensive onshore pipeline disaster in U.S. history. The Canadian tar sands company’s recent attempt to gloss over this reality with a public relations campaign reveals the company has yet to learn this basic truth – simply saying something doesn’t make it so.

EPA issued Enbridge with an enforcement action requiring the pipeline company to resume its two year cleanup in three sections of the Kalamazoo River. In these areas, totaling over five and a half miles of the Kalamazoo River, there is so much submerged oil that the river is spontaneously generating oil sheen and oil globules and in danger of spreading.

Even with EPA’s new order, Enbridge will still be leave oil contamination in over 32 miles of the Kalamazoo River, where officials believe that the dredging necessary to recover the oil would cause more damage than benefit. That means that after Enbridge finishes the cleanup that EPA has ordered, the company will leave tar sands in place throughout over 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge’s attempt to greenwash its impact on the Kalamazoo River speaks for itself. In a presentation to investors this week, the company provided three quotes from anonymous local residents, fisherman and river enthusiasts, who gush about what Enbridge’s tar sands spill has done for the community.

Enbridge Investor.JPG

Focus on Operations, Presented in Enbridge’s 14th annual investment community conference October 3, 2012

Who are these people and where do they come from? As part of our Voices Against Tar Sands, we talked to folks in Marshall, Michigan. The people we talked to have names and stories to tell. It’s worth listening to what folks like Susan Connolly and Debbie Miller have to say about what Enbridge’s tar sands spill has done to their community.

This isn’t the first time that Enbridge has opted to obscure a problem rather than address it. For instance, Enbridge’s plan to ship tar sands in super tankers through British Columbia’s sensitive inner coastal waters – a treacherous maze of tightly packed rocky islands and reefs - has generated a public uproar in the province. Enbridge’s solution? The company broadened the Douglas Channel by erasing 400 square miles of offending islands on a map which it then promoted in a public relations campaign. Even if you look closely at the supertanker on Enbridge’s map, it’s hard to tell whether its run aground on Hawkesbury Island or if it is still in Devastation Channel.


Enbridge’s version of the Douglas channel compared to a scientists version, provided by SumOfUS

During the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill, Enbridge initially denied that tar sands was spilled. As Congressional and federal investigations began to uncover additional details on the spill, Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel backtracked, saying:

“No, I haven't said it's not tar sand oil. What I indicated is that it was not what we have traditionally referred to as tar sands oil. ... If it is part of the same geological formation, then I bow to that expert opinion. I'm not saying, ‘No, it's not oil sands crude.' It's just not traditionally defined as that and viewed as that.” Patrick Daniels, August 12, 2010

It was tar sands diluted with volatile natural gas liquid condensate, technically referred to as diluted bitumen.

And recently, a Canadian newspaper broke another Enbridge flip flop. During hearings before Canadian officials in May, Enbridge pitched the reversal of its line 9 pipeline as a means to provide conventional crude to Eastern Canada. In June, Enbridge officials responded to opposition to plans to build establish the Trailbreaker pipeline system to ship tar sands through New England, saying ‘we have been absolutely clear that the company is not pursuing the Trailbreaker Project… I’m not sure what more we can say or how clearly we can say this.” Belying Enbridge’s denials, this week a U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Natural Resources Council of Maine uncovered that the Canadian Consulate has made presentations to the governor of Maine to promote the arrival of tar sands in New England. Is it possible that Enbridge doesn’t traditionally view the Trailbreaker project the way the rest of the world does?

It’s no wonder communities in the Midwest, New England, and British Columbia are balking at Enbridge’s plans to build and expand its tar sands pipeline network through their groundwater and rivers.

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Josh MogermanOct 6 2012 05:38 PM

And of course they do that sort of thing in other communities with clean up drills that look good for the cameras, but don't address the stuff moving through their pipelines:

Mike H.Oct 7 2012 04:16 AM

Yes, oil sheen is still being seen by residents along the river there. Just like the tar balls washed ashore along the Gulf after Hurricane Isaac, despite all those BP commercials of Gulf residents happy the beaches were clean. Inadequate cleanups in both places. The normal boom skimming worked poorly with tar sands crude, it sank, but it's still breaking up.

I'm still seeing the "100,000+ jobs" being heralded about Keystone XL Pipeline, a grossly inflated figure in light of other pipeline projects of the same size. It will carry the same tar sands crude like the failed Enbridge line did through the heart of the US.

Jessica W.Oct 9 2012 06:59 PM

Please explain the connection between Enbridge and the information gathered in the Maine FOIA request. As described here, there were presentations from the Canadian government regarding bringing tar sands oil to Maine, but is there any information linking the Canadian government's efforts to Enbridge in particular, or just Canadian oil companies in general? It was not clear from this post.

Anthony SwiftOct 10 2012 04:19 PM

Hi Jessica -

That's a fair question. There are two issues to keep in mind.

First, Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline is the only pipeline that could bring tar sand crude through New England.

Second, with these sorts of projects, the Canadian and Albertan goverments often act as ambassadors for project applicants when dealing with national, state and municipal governments. This is particularly the case when projects are politically sensitive. Both the federal government of Canada and Alberta's provincial government have made getting these pipeline projects approved a priority.

In addition to all of this, another FOIA has uncovered documents showing that the pipeline company on the US side (a subsidiary owned by Exxon) specified that it would move Cold Lake diluted bitumen tar sands (the blend spilled in Kalamazoo).

Samuel JenkinsOct 12 2012 08:03 AM

No fewer than three people from the offices of Michigan elected officials told us the Kalamazoo River was "cleaner than before the spill" when we called them to express our concerns about the Line 6B "replacement" project. So one of the most frightening things about Enbridge's greenwashing is that our elected representatives appear to swallow without question every word they say. Which explains why not one single political officeholder at the state or federal level in Michigan has said boo about Enbridge's ongoing activities in our state-- despite everything we know about Marshall.

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