843,000 gallons

Two years ago, while many Americans were preoccupied with a man-made hole spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, another “smaller” but still pretty massive spill was dumping oil in Michigan. Was I the only one who basically missed the 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil gushing into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River? If not, news accounts are here and here. This story lacks none of the distressing details. NPR reports:

On the evening of July 25, 2010, alarms indicating a leak starting going off in Enbridge’s control room as soon as the pipeline burst open.

But three shifts of pipeline operators misinterpreted those signals.

At the scene of the gusher, people started calling 911 to report petroleum smells, but local emergency responders didn’t know about the pipeline so they didn’t think to alert Enbridge about the spill.

“It wasn’t until late Monday morning, 17 hours and 19 minutes after the rupture, that a worker from a local gas utility found the spill and notified the Enbridge control center,” Hersman said.

Only then did the company cut off the flow of the pipeline and send people to investigate.

This was a six foot hole in a decades old pipeline, which operator Enbridge had been advised for years was badly in need of repair – locals were literally dialing 911 – and three shifts in the control room go by without action! A report this week by Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finds the spill could have been prevented, citing a long list of safety violations. Enbridge faces a “record” fine, but I’m with Anthony Swift: Given Congress’s recent enthusiasm over a proposed tar sands oil pipeline that would travel thousands of miles through the US, why isn’t this disastrous case of regulatory failure a more prominent part of the debate?

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