Kalamazoo oil spill: How Enbridge wins while the climate loses

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Written by MEP’s Andrew Slade – It’s been five years since an Enbridge pipeline burst open in Marshall, Michigan and spilled nearly a million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River, a tributary of Lake Michigan.

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Normally, history is written by the winners, but in this case, there should have been no winners, only losers. The Kalamazoo River lost its ecological function. The people who live along the river lost their health and their property values. Heck, even Enbridge lost a bunch of oil. National Wildlife Federation took an excellent look back on their blog (LINK: http://blog.nwf.org/2015/07/remember-the-kalamazoo-stop-tar-sands/). 

The only one claiming to have come out better after the spill is Enbridge. They’ve experienced a company-wide culture shift, they say. They spent over a billion dollars of their customers’ money cleaning up the problem. They seize every opportunity to present themselves as a caring corporate neighbor because of all the work they’ve done to clean up their own mess (LINK: http://www.enbridge.com/InYourCommunity/PipelinesInYourCommunity/Enbridge-in-Michigan/Marshall-Incident-and-Response.aspx). Because of the spill, they are even bigger and stronger now than before.

The Kalamazoo oil spill has direct connections to the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior, where I live and work. The oil that spilled, heavy crude from Alberta, had passed right through the Enbridge terminal in Superior. Local employees, including friends and acquaintances of mine, hurried to the scene to try to manage the chaos.

Did Enbridge “win” the Kalamazoo oil spill? Since the spill, their staff in Duluth and Superior has grown exponentially. The company has taken over prominent office spaces in both cities’ downtowns. Business is booming for other companies that support Enbridge, like engineering companies and natural resource contractors. Within a few years, that stretch of pipeline had been fixed and once again was carrying earth-warming tar sands crude to market. Fixing the Michigan pipeline was not nearly enough; Enbridge currently has at least five pipelines in the region either in planning, construction or expansion, including Sandpiper, the Alberta Clipper, and the mainline across the heart of Wisconsin.

Meet a young professional doing private sector natural resource work in Duluth, and there’s a good chance their paycheck comes, at least in part, from Enbridge. They are getting paid good money to help Enbridge avoid further environmental disasters to local habitats and waterways. But everything Enbridge does in oil transport contributes to the larger disaster of climate change. And even a well-managed oil spill is still an oil spill.

Our local economy is now even more complicit in the sharp rise in greenhouse gasses and the disaster of climate change. When Enbridge asked Duluth Mayor Don Ness to endorse their expansion plans for the Alberta Clipper, he was happy to do so, joining the mayor of Superior in a press conference. He cited all the great jobs in environmental protection Enbridge had brought to Duluth. He did not mention all the environmental destruction that comes from mining, shipping, and burning tar sands oil. Or from spilling it.

My heart goes out to the Kalamazoo River community, human, plant and animal (LINK: http://www.rememberthekalamazoo.org/ ). While Enbridge and the Twin Ports seem to be “winning” with the new pipeline economy, it all began with their loss. When the next spill flows into the St. Louis River or Lake Superior, only then will we feel the real loss of what is truly important.

One Response to “Kalamazoo oil spill: How Enbridge wins while the climate loses”

  1. mary kowalski

    Thank You for printing this article. Please emphasize to Gov Dayton how important it is to manage the routing of their new pipelines in MN.