A worker monitors the water in Talmadge Creek in Marshall Township, Mich., near the Kalamazoo River as oil from a ruptured pipeline is vacuumed out of the water Thursday.
A worker monitors the water in Talmadge Creek in Marshall Township, Mich., near the Kalamazoo River as oil from a ruptured pipeline is vacuumed out of the water Thursday. Paul Sancya/AP
Crews are working Friday in southwest Michigan to clean up as much as 1 million gallons of crude oil that spilled from a broken pipeline into the Kalamazoo River.
There are concerns that the oil could reach Lake Michigan if it isn't stopped soon.
Exactly when the 30-inch pipe burst is a point of contention. Residents in the little town of Marshall, Mich., say they smelled oil Sunday morning. Enbridge Energy Partners, the Canadian company that owns the pipeline, says it didn't detect a leak until Monday.
Either way, before the pipe was shut off Monday, the equivalent of roughly 150 tanker trucks of oil poured into a creek and then flowed into the Kalamazoo River. Some 50 families are now being asked to evacuate because of air quality concerns.
Health officials say the area where the spill occurred is highly toxic, and they want people to stay away from the river.
"I'm kind of scared to drink the water, but I’m not sure," said Marshall resident Kayla Nelson. "I haven't heard anything, but I'm just kind of scared myself to drink it."
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are now testing the water supply to see whether it's safe to drink. Officials in Calhoun County are advising some families to use bottled water instead.
The Kalamazoo River feeds into Morrow Lake. Officials are hoping to stop the oil before it reaches the dam on the lake, which they are calling the last line of defense because it's about 80 miles east of Lake Michigan. So far, the EPA says the oil has not reached the lake.
"Yesterday, I told the kids it'll probably be the last time they'll be able to play in the river," said Wesley Boland, who lives below the dam, where the river is still oil-free. "It's sad. The big fish that we caught up here, the pike, we can't eat them.
"I've ate them my whole life. It's sad, it's sad, it's sad. You know, what more can you say?"
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has declared a state of disaster, while criticizing Enbridge for not doing more to contain the spill. Granholm worries that the oil slick will pollute the wide, sandy Lake Michigan beaches at the height of the tourist season.
"It would be a tragedy of historic proportions if this breached into Lake Michigan," she said.
Vacuum trucks have been sucking oil off the river all week. Enbridge officials say they have collected much of the oil, but they acknowledge there's still a lot on the river.
"We take full responsibility for the cleanup, and we will be here until you are happy in this community and in this county that we have completed our responsibilities," Enbridge President and CEO Patrick Daniel said at a Thursday news conference.
Although it's not known what caused the pipe to rupture, the U.S. Department of Transportation has cited the energy company for repeated safety violations. Just last January, the agency sent Enbridge a warning letter about a section of the same pipeline.
As the cleanup work continues, Enbridge officials remain confident they can stop the oil's forward progress before it reaches Lake Michigan.