Owner of pipe­line says oil spill in Michi­gan river is con­tained

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Tim Martin and John Flesher

MAR­SHALL, Mich. — Vol­un­teers and govern­ment of­fi­cials scram­bled Fri­day to save geese and other wildlife dam­aged by an oil spill in a south­ern Michi­gan river as the Cana­dian com­pany that owns the rup­tured pipe­line said the crude had been con­tained.

En­bridge Inc., based in Cal­gary, Al­berta, said its fo­cus was shift­ing to clean­ing up the spilled oil in the Kala­ma­zoo River, which it es­ti­mates at 820,000 gal­lons. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency puts the to­tal at more than 1 mil­lion gal­lons.

The oil is con­tained by booms and other de­vices that can keep it in place un­til vac­uum equip­ment can suck it up, com­pany spokesman Alan Roth said.

“It’s been cap­tured; it’s not go­ing any­where,” Roth said.

Com­pany and fed­eral of­fi­cials say they don’t be­lieve the oil will reach Lake Michi­gan, where the Kala­ma­zoo River emp­ties about 80 miles from where the oil has been con­tained. But EPA of­fi­cials say it could take a cou­ple of months to clean up the spill, and the cause is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Hun­dreds of work­ers and contractors were work­ing on cleanup. En­bridge said it had re­cov­ered 100,800 gal­lons and es­ti­mated that 420,000 gal­lons are in a hold­ing area and will be pumped into tanks.

“No one is sug­ar­coat­ing it,” Roth said. “There’s still a tremen­dous amount of work to do, but good progress is be­ing made.”

Sci­en­tists fear the worst may be yet to come for fish in the river. Jay Wes­ley, a bi­ol­o­gist with the State of Michi­gan, said the oil spill had killed fish in “very limited num­bers” along the af­fected stretch of the river from Mar­shall west­ward into Bat­tle Creek.

The big­ger prob­lems for fish might come within a week or so, if the oil spill re­sults in de­creased oxy­gen lev­els in the wa­ter. Wes­ley said in­sects, al­gae, frogs and tur­tles along the river have been killed in high num­bers — which could hurt the fish food sup­ply.

“The ef­fects are prob­a­bly go­ing to be more long-term,” Wes­ley said. “We prob­a­bly won’t know the full ef­fects for weeks or months or years.”

A wildlife rehabilitation cen­ter staffed and man­aged by an En­bridge con­trac­tor near Mar­shall had re­ceived about 50 in­jured an­i­mals — mostly geese — by mid­day Fri­day.

Birds and an­i­mals are ex­am­ined and sta­bi­lized be­fore they are de­con­tam­i­nated and the oil is washed away. The sta­bi­liza­tion pe­riod may take at least 48 hours for a large bird as vet­eri­nar­i­ans and bi­ol­o­gists de­ter­mine whether it has re­gained enough strength to go through the de­con­tam­i­na­tion process.

This week, oil seeped up on veg­e­ta­tion and shrubs hug­ging the shore — turn­ing green leaves to a shim­mery black. A rain­bow-col­ored sheen was still vis­i­ble on parts of the river, which has been closed to fish­ing, boat­ing and other recre­ation.

“Com­mu­ni­ties were built along rivers in Michi­gan,” Beth Wal­lace of the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion said. “It’s the life source of a com­mu­nity. … On this stretch, it will take a long, long time for the river to re­cover.”

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