Yet Another Oil Disaster … in Michigan


The Gulf disaster is still far from over, even if members of the national press apparently need help finding the oil. But now there’s another oil disaster to worry about. Calhoun County, Michigan is in the midst of what might be the worst oil spill ever in the Midwest.

At least 19,000 barrels of crude leaked from an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy of Canada into the Talmadge Creek sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. The creek leads to the Kalamazoo River, a major waterway that feeds into Lake Michigan. Already, the spill has spread 16 miles downriver. Gov. Jennifer Granholm declared the area a disaster zone on Tuesday night.

The Michigan Messenger is on the story, reporting that there seems to have been a significant lag time between when local residents first reported the spill and when the company officially acknowledged it. There’s also some discrepancy between the company’s estimate of the spill (19,000 barrels) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (23,800 barrels). Imagine that …

More disturbing? Apparently this is a regular event for Enbridge:

This is not the first time the Canadian oil company has had contact with PHMSA officials. Documents from the agency show that Enbridge Energy pipelines have leaked oil on 12 different occasions in Michigan since 2002.

Most of those leaks were very small, between one and 25 barrels of oil (each barrel contains 42 gallons). But in three cases the company’s pipeline spewed 100, 120 and 500 barrels into the surrounding area. None of the spills caused injuries or death, PHMSA documents show. Those 12 cases caused a total of more than $810,000 in property damage.

Mind you, Louisiana also had to deal with another gusher yesterday as a tug boat struck a wellhead, spewing oil and natural gas 100 feet into the air.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.