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Looking back at Michigan Radio's coverage of the Kalamazoo River oil spill

State of Michigan
The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the spill.

Ten years ago, Enbridge Energy’s pipeline 6B split open near Marshall, Michigan. The EPA estimated more than a million gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. It was the biggest oil spill into an inland waterway in U.S. history.

Michigan Radio was on the ground that first week, and over the past decade, we have reported on the environmental ramifications and legal challenges that resulted from the spill.

You can find coverage highlights below:


Oil Spilled While No One Reacted

“An underground pipeline that carries crude oil from Indiana to Ontario sprung a leak late on Sunday, July 25, 2010.

Credit Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Water and oil flow down Talmadge Creek toward the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan.

Health officials say the area where the spill occurred is highly toxic. They want people to stay away from the river. That means no boating, no fishing, no swimming.

When I drove to Marshall yesterday, I could smell the oil from the highway. Basically everywhere you go in Marshall you can smell the oil.”

Rehab for Oil-Covered Animals

“A lot of birds and animals can get caught up in one million gallons of crude oil. No one knows yet exactly how many birds, mammals, turtles, frogs and fish have been affected by the Kalamazoo oil spill. But more than 90 animals have been brought into a wildlife rehab center in Marshall.”

Oil Spill’s Effect on Turtles and Toads

“After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles… and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.”

A Great Blue Heron covered in oil after the Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.
Credit State of Michigan
State of Michigan
A Great Blue Heron covered in oil after the Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River.


Oil Lingers in Kalamazoo River

“It was one of the largest oil spills in the Midwest… and it’s not over yet.

Cleanup could continue for another year. But that doesn’t include restoration of habitat, and that’ll take even longer. And workers will not be able to clean up every last drop of oil.”

Health Concerns After the Oil Spill

“Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

‘I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare.’”

Life on the Kalamazoo River

“It’s been one year since more than 840,000 gallons of oil leaked from a broken pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy. Workers are still trying to clean up thick tar sands oil that’s settled at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. Lindsey Smith reports life for those living near the accident site has not returned to normal yet.”

Listen: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

This photo was taken on July 19, 2011 - oil still remains in the creek and the river.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
This photo was taken on July 19, 2011 - oil still remains in the creek and the river.


Crews continue to search for oil on the bottom of 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.”

Enbridge takes Michigan landowners to court

“Enbridge Energy is replacing one of its pipelines that runs through lower Michigan. They’re replacing Line 6B. It’s the same pipeline that broke in Marshall two years ago.

To build the pipeline, the company says it needs additional easement next to the current 60 foot easement that runs through many people’s backyards.”


Landowners upset about delays in property restoration as new Enbridge pipeline opens

“Enbridge’s new Line 6B pipeline is in the ground and in service. It runs for 285 miles across the state from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan.

The company installed this new pipeline after their old pipeline burst and caused a massive oil spill in 2010.

To replace it, they had to cut down trees and tear up people’s land. Enbridge has hired contractors to restore those properties in phases.”


State of Michigan announces $75 million settlement with Enbridge over Kalamazoo River oil spill

“Today, the state of Michigan announced a settlement with Enbridge Energy over the largest inland oil spill in American history.

The state’s $75 million consent judgment with Enbridge won’t be coming as a huge cash payment. Most of the money has already gone to, or will be going to river restoration or recreation projects along the Kalamazoo River.”

Life five years after the nation's worst inland oil spill

There is still oil left behind. Residual oil bubbles to the surface in a wetland next to the Kalamazoo River.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
There is still oil left behind. Residual oil bubbles to the surface in a wetland next to the Kalamazoo River.

“The biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history happened right here in Michigan. Now that five years have passed, we checked in with people who were affected by the spill.

Almost all of the people we talked to remember the overpowering smell of oil in the air. But the people we talked to downtown seem to have moved on. Many said they thought Enbridge did a pretty good job cleaning up the spill.

But you hear a different story when you get closer to the spill site.”

How are people feeling five years after the nation's worst inland oil spill?

“Just about everyone we spoke with remembered the overpowering smell of noxious vapors in the air. People in the area self-evacuated, and some never came back.

But for most of the people we talked to in Marshall, life has returned to normal.”

Even after the state's pipeline report, the status of Line 5 below Lake Michigan is still unknown

“People in Michigan are naturally concerned about the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state. After all, Michigan suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

And there's one pipeline in particular that people are quite concerned about: Enbridge's Line 5 moves more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid petroleum products a day under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.”

Editor’s note: Enbridge Energy is a financial sponsor of Michigan Radio

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.