Today, Canadian oil behemoth Enbridge reached a $177 million settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding a pipe rupture that flooded a section of the Kalamazoo River with oil several years ago. About 1.1 million gallons of crude oil were released into the environment in the spill, according to the Detroit Free Press
It all started back in 2010, when an Enbridge-operated pipeline running through Michigan burst. The oil started flowing into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the larger Kalamazoo river. Eventually, a 38 mile section of the river was contaminated.
Mismanagement made the situation much worse than it could have been, as Enbridge officials failed to recognize the situation for almost a day. In fact, after company sensors indicated a problem in the pipeline, Enbridge actually increased the pressure, erroneously believing that the alarms going off were caused by a bubble impeding oil flow
. Only when a Michigan utility worker reported the spill 18 hours after it had happened did the company learn of the disaster.
Cleanup workers faced greater challenges than with other spills, because the pipe carried a certain type of oil that sinks to the bottom of the riverbed and clumps up with other materials. Cleanup costs eventually ballooned to over $765 million. Residents of the area lost access to portions of the river for several years, were put under fish advisories, and many were forced to evacuate their homes due to chemical concerns related to the spill.
It remains the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
The $177 million in fines to be paid out by Enbridge will be used to finish offsetting the damages done by the spill, as well as prevent future ones.