After the Marshall Spill: Oil Pipelines in the Great Lakes Region

A Legal Analysis by the National Wildlife Federation

October 2012

Prepared by Sara Gosman, Lesley MacGregor, Gabe Tabak, and James Woola

On July 25, 2010, Line 6B of Enbridge Energy Partners ruptured near Marshall, Michigan, causing one of the largest oil spills in Midwest history. The complex cleanup is still ongoing. Approximately one million gallons of diluted bitumen, a heavy crude oil, spilled into a wetland that feeds Talmadge Creek, and from there into the Kalamazoo River.1 The spill affected wetlands, farmlands, residential areas, and businesses, raising health concerns and leading to evacuations and warnings about swimming, fishing, and drinking water. By August 5th, the spill had contaminated 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River but had stopped well short of Lake Michigan. The cause of the rupture is still unknown. County, state, and federal agencies have been involved in cleanup efforts. In 2011, Enbridge estimated that the cleanup costs would be at least $725 million.

The impacts of the pipeline rupture continue to be felt. Many impacted residents are concerned abou tthe health effects from direct or long-term exposure. Crude oil contains compounds such as benzene (a known carcinogen), toluene, and hydrogen sulfide, and the evaporation or dissolution of these and other chemicals into the air and water can cause respiratory illnesses, nausea, and headaches. Up to fifty residents near the spill site were urged to evacuate following the detection of elecated levels of benzene in the air. Another major concern is contaminated groundwater, since Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo river supply the area's drinking water. Municipal officials noted that drinking water wells were located as close as 200 feet to the contaminated river.

The spill has also had a detrimental effect on nearby ecosystems. The Kalamazoo watershed is a vital habitat for a variety of species, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (Michigan DEQ) has classified the main stem of the Kalamazoo River as high quality fish habitat. Forty-four species of amphibians and reptiles, over 218 bird species, and over forty mammal species have been replaced. are found in the Kalamazoo watershed. The exposure to crude oil, whether directly or indirectly through the dissolved components in the water, may lead to mortality, deformities, and lower growth rates in animals.


This is the beginning to a publication originally published by the National Wildlife Federation. Read the full publication here.

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