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Kalamazoo Spill Cover-Up: A Preview for Keystone in Nebraska?

UPDATE:  Less than a year after this post was written, the NTSB has released a scathing report of Enbridge’s actions before the spill and during the clean-up.  Enbridge has received the largest fine ever given to a pipeline company for their negligence.  In the meantime, Michigan residents are still suffering and are struggling daily to have their story heard.  This pipeline spill has truly ruined the land, lives, and communities of many people in Michigan.  This post is being revisited as part of our July 25th, 2012 action, “We Are Kalamazoo, Keep Our Water Blue” event.

In July 2010, a pipeline carrying tarsands crude oil ruptured and spilled over 800,000 gallons of tarsands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed in Michigan. The pipeline, owned by Canadian oil company Enbridge, was shut down, and the EPA immediately ordered Enbridge to clean up the spill.

A year later, on August 27th, 2011, I was in Michigan as part of the Stop the Pipeline Tour, and I went to the town of Marshall, where Talmadge creek was the source site of the rupture and spill. I met with citizens of the area, among them John Bolenbaugh, a former Enbridge employee who is now acting as a whistle-blower on what he feels is the company’s substandard job of cleaning up the oil.

Instead of properly cleaning up the spill, Bolenbaugh contends, Enbridge is covering it up by dumping sand and gravel into Talmadge creek in an attempt to hide submerged oil. Bolenbaugh also claims that Enbridge is using landscaping fabric and overseeding techniques to cover up oil spilled along the creek’s banks.

In addition, Enbridge is trying to buy the silence of the local residents by offering them money, hotel stays, home air filters, and medical expense reimbursement in exchange for their signatures on non-disclosure forms. Enbridge is also buying contaminated land, moving residents out of their homes, and doing nothing to clean up the oil on what is now company property.

This is significant for Nebraskans for so many reasons. First of all, it shows the true colors of these multinational oil corporations. They are not friendly neighbors  They do not care about our soil, our water, or our health but instead will cut any corner necessary to minimize their expenses, avoid responsibility, and maintain maximum profits for their shareholders.

The Michigan example shows what a tarsands oil spill could look like in Nebraska, not only along the Keystone I pipeline route which already crosses many rivers in our state, but also along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route that will cross the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer as well as many of Nebraska’s rivers and streams. Allowing these pipelines to operate in our state with no regulations in place to protect Nebraskans is taking a huge risk.

This risk is unacceptable. But we Nebraskans can do something about it. You can take action to help prevent something like this from happening in Nebraska:

  • Send comments to the State Department.  Let your voice be heard, make sure that they are studying pipelines in ways that address the concerns of the citizens who will be affected.
  • Write to Gov. Heineman, calling on him to stay true to his words when he opposed the pipeline because it crossed the Ogallala aquifer.
  • Spread the word! Let your friends, family, and neighbors know about the dangers these pipelines pose to our land, water, and communities. We must act as watchful citizens to make sure what happened in Michigan doesn’t happen in Nebraska!

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