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Jul 30 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Midwest Oil Spill

The oil industry spills again, this time in Michigan. Pipelines owned by Enbridge Energy Partners leaked crude into the Kalamazoo River. The EPA estimates more than 1 million gallons have been spilled.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has criticized both Enbridge and the EPA for their inadequate response to the crisis. She warned of a “tragedy of epic proportions” if the oil reaches Lake Michigan, a distinct possibility.

What’s so striking is how formulaic the oil spill story has become.

First, there are the governmental notices of potential problems with the current system, in the months and years leading up to the leak. In this case, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration notified Enbridge that the old pipeline could be corroding and needed monitoring. The Detroit Free Press reports that it’s not clear if the company acted on the government notices or whether the concerns played any role in the leak.

Second, the company lowballs the extent of the problem. Enbridge says 800,000 gallons; EPA says 1 million.

Next, reporters trying to cover the leak are hampered in their work. A reporter and photographer from the Detroit Free Press were not allowed into a wildlife recovery area, but the newspaper doesn’t specify whether it was government or Enbridge that stopped them.

Then it’s time for the President to pledge swift response. Done.

Meanwhile, local pols say cleanup needs more resources. Granholm toured the affected area by helicopter and then met with state and federal officials. She remains unimpressed by current efforts. “From my perspective, the response has been anemic,” she said.

And this story always has a sad ending. The spill has already killed fish and soaked snails, frogs, and muskrats. Get ready for pictures of oil-coated king fishers and great blue herons.

Jesse Jacox, who enjoyed canoeing the Kalamazoo River, told the Free Press, “It saddens me to death. I don’t see any way they’re going to clean all that.”

Oil spills don’t “just happen.” Companies drill for oil because it makes them profits. Our economic system—one that demands growth, not sustainability—guarantees environmental degradation.

Until we start to heavily invest in renewable energy and get off the carbon economy, we are bound to hear this story over and over again.

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