WSW: Environmental Groups Want Federal Study of Pipeline Safety

Jul 17, 2014

One of the largest oil spills in history happened on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 - file photo
Credit WMUK

When a pipeline ruptured near Marshall in 2010 it spilled hundreds of thousand of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. 

Jennifer McKay, Policy Specialist with the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey,  says that spill increased awareness about the network of pipelines that carry crude oil and other materials near Michigan waterways. 

McKay says it's part of the reason that 30 environmental and conservation organizations in Michigan are asking the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to conduct a water crossing study to evaluate the risk of ruptures and leaks. McKay says there are over 70,000 miles of pipeline throughout Michigan. She says they transport natural gas, fuel and other materials "out of sight and out of mind."

PHMSA records show there were 116 reported incidents on pipelines in Michigan from 2004 to 2013. McKay says most of those were not as big as the oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010. But she says it's still concerning, even if other spills in the state have largely been "under the radar."

Congress approved new pipeline safety measures shortly after the spill on the Kalamazoo River. McKay says the effect of those of those federal changes are not known yet. The state has appointed a task force to study pipeline safety. McKay says the state's role is limited on hazardous materials moving through pipelines. 

Since the Kalamazoo River oil spill in 2010, McKay says federal reports show a decrease in pipeline incidents caused by excavation. She says that's because of education efforts and awareness about identifying where pipelines are located before work begins. McKay says there has been an uptick in incidents related to hazardous materials and crude oil pipelines. But she says it's not known why, or if it is part of a trend. 

McKay says the Kalamazoo River oil spill showed some institutional failures in pipeline owner Enbirdge. She says the company has made changes since then, and the federal government has tried to make information available to other companies to prevent pipeline incidents in the future.