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Crews continue to search for oil on the bottom of the Kalamazoo River

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio
This is a stretch of Talmadge Creek that's about a half mile downstream from where the Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured in 2010. Enbridge diverted the creek, excavated the contaminated creek bed, and reconstructed the creek.

We’re coming up on two years since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says most of the oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But there’s still oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. This spring, the company, the state and the EPA will be figuring out how much oil is left... and where it is.

“The pipeline break location was approximately a half mile upstream from here.”

Mark DuCharme is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. We’re standing on a two-lane road looking out at Talmadge Creek.

“Shortly after the spill, you couldn’t actually even see the creek. If you were down at this location, all you could see is oil. These banks were heavily oiled as well, so just catastrophic damage.”

He says things have come a long way at this site. Enbridge moved the creek out of its normal path... they actually diverted it and ran it through a pipeline. Then, they dug up the contaminated creek bed. Now, the creek is back in place. Enbridge put in clean soil, and then added seeds from native wetland plants.

Little green shoots are pushing up through the ground.

But there’s still a long road ahead. Mark DuCharme says Enbridge has more restoration work to do at Talmadge Creek... and then the DEQ will require long-term monitoring.

“Can we replace it to the exact condition it was prior? Probably not. Can we go back and put something back that will be an acceptable ecosystem? That’s the expectation.”

DuCharme says tar sands oil is very heavy, and very thick - and that has made the cleanup more difficult.

“We’re writing the book on how to clean up oil sands out of cold water streams in freshwater systems. We’ve been looking elsewhere, we’ve been trying to find other examples – they’re just not there.”

The work crews have had an ongoing struggle of trying to find – and remove – oil from the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Ralph Dollhopf is an on-scene coordinator with the EPA.

“We can tell there are smaller and smaller amounts of submerged oil in the river. We just need to be careful that as we continue to tease that out of the river that we don’t hurt the river or the river sediments or the animals and plants of the river any more.”

Talmadge Creek and parts of the Kalamazoo River are still closed to recreation. The local county health departments hope to reopen portions of the river sometime this spring or summer.

Ralph Dollhopf says the EPA estimates more than 1.1 million gallons of oil have been removed from the creek and the river. That includes oil that soaked into soil and covered plants. Now – that number is quite a bit higher than what Enbridge says was initially spilled: which is roughly 843,000 gallons.

“But I can’t comment on that difference, because the amount that was estimated to have been released is the subject of a number of ongoing investigations.”

The EPA has an official investigation. And the National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.

Enbridge has its own investigation into the cause of the pipeline break.

Jason Manshum is a company spokesperson.

“We have not released those results. You know, everything really is hinging on the results of the NTSB study which has been delayed until later this year.”

He says Enbridge won’t release those results until after the federal government issues its findings.

Manshum says Enbridge is committed to trying to get the area back to the condition it was in before the spill.

The cleanup... restoration... and monitoring could continue for several more years.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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