Kalamazoo Spill Settlement: “Slap on the Wrist” Fines Won’t Fix Tar Sands Troubles

CHICAGO – A Department of Justice and EPA settlement agreement with Enbridge Energy over the disastrous Kalamazoo River tar sands pipeline spill announced today amounts to a “slap on the wrist” according to NRDC experts. The 2010 spill of a million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Michigan waterway stands as the biggest inland pipeline spill, as well as the longest-running and most expensive oil cleanup project, in American history.

The settlement comes as numerous potentially dangerous tar sands oil infrastructure projects are under consideration across North America, including a vast expansion of Enbridge’s pipeline system ringing the Great Lakes. NRDC and other groups have called for rigorous environmental review of projects in Michigan, Minnesota and across Canada.

Following is reaction from Natural Resources Defense Council Canada Program director Anthony Swift:

“The years spent cleaning the Kalamazoo are a cautionary tale for all of the tar sands projects being contemplated across North America. The Kalamazoo River tar sands spill highlights the real costs of this bottom of the barrel oil. Communities being asked to allow tar sands pipelines through their borders, or tankers along their shores, need to understand the industry knows very little about how to address these spills.  

“The fines amount to a slap on the wrist, far from what a historic spill like this should garner. When you look at the immense toll the mess in Michigan took on the surrounding community’s health, economy and quality of life, it’s hard not to walk away feeling Enbridge got off lightly. This will do little to force the pipeline industry to think about spills—even historically massive ones—as a cost of doing business.

“As Enbridge looks to push ever-larger volumes of tar sands muck through the Great Lakes region, this settlement is a strong reminder of what is at stake. We simply cannot rubber stamp projects moving this dangerous form of petroleum without a better understanding of how to do it safely and vigorous environmental review—to date that has not happened.”


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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