Kalamazoo River Spill

Oil Sheen on Ceresco Dam/Kalamazoo River
Photo by Lighthawk for Sierra Club

On July 25th, 2010, Enbridge had the largest and most costly inland oil spill in U.S. history, saturating around 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River watershed. This rupture was caused by a 6-foot break in their pipeline called Line 6B (renamed Line 78 after it was replaced and expanded). That rupture went undetected and unreported for nearly 17 hours because Enbridge misinterpreted alarms indicating a loss of pressure to be column separation (a bubble in the line). Making matters worse, Enbridge’s response for overcoming column separation was to increase flow and pressure on the line to try and impede the bubble. For nearly 17 hours, Enbridge repeatedly increased pressure until they were finally notified by a local utility that Line 6B had a major rupture.

Ten days before this rupture, Enbridge testified before Congress that they could detect a leak “almost instantaneously.” Enbridge was being questioned about this very point because of its poor safety record and because of known defects on Line 6B.

Information from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) indicates that Line 5 had at least 2,400 known defects as of 2011. Those same documents show that Enbridge has inspected less than 12 percent of the known defects. Unfortunately, PHMSA is unwilling to provide details on where these features are along the pipeline, claiming that transparency poses a security risk. Alarmingly, in a single 30-day period, Enbridge reported several column separation alarms on Line 5, which calls into question their ability to properly monitor the line for leaks.

Enbridge already has a history of failure on Line 5. Public records go back only as far as 1988, but in that time, Enbridge has had 15 documented failures on Line 5, resulting in about 260,000 gallons of oil leaking from their pipeline.

A significant spill occurred from Line 5 in 1999 when more than 220,000 gallons of oil and natural gas liquids gushed into a marsh near Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula. After nearby residents were evacuated, Enbridge officials ignited a resulting vapor cloud to prevent it from spreading. This sparked a raging fire that burned for 36 hours and scorched eight acres.


1988 Mackinac, MI 40
1990  Mackinac, MI 15
1992  Superior, WI 7
1993  Lapeer, MI 5
1993  Gogebic, MI 100
1994  St. Clair, MI 1
1999  Crystal Falls, MI 5300
2002  Superior, WI 10
2003  Bay City, MI 500
2004  Superior, WI 40
2005  Bay City, MI 100
2006  Sterling, MI 1
2006  Marysville, MI 20
2010  Lapeer, MI 1
2012  Sterling, MI 20

 * One barrel = 42 U.S. gallons



There have been 1,068 Enbridge spills across the entire Enbridge pipeline system that has dumped 7.4 million gallons of oil into the environment between 1999 and 2013 - an average of 71 spills and 500,000 gallons per year. That’s more than one oil spill every week for the last 15 years. Within the Enbridge Lakehead system, there have been several significant spills including:

Line 6b Rupture

Ruptured Section of Enbridge 6b Pipeline - Photo courtesy NTSB

1999 Line 5, Crystal Falls, MI  226,000
2002 Minnesota 200,000
2003 Toledo 5,460
2003 Line 5, Bay County, MI 21,000
2005 Line 5, Bay County, MI 4,200
2007 Wisconsin 63,000
2010 North Dakota 158,928
2010 Chicago 316,596
2010 Marshall, MI 843,444
(See Below)
2012 Wisconsin 72,618

*According to PHMSA

"Enbridge initially reported the pipeline break (in Marshall, MI) released 819,000 gallons of crude. The company later revised that amount to 843,000 gallons. At EPA’s direction, Enbridge has provided regular, updated estimates of how much oil it has recovered since the spill. These estimates are based on methods worked out with EPA technical experts to determine the amount of oil in all waste recovery categories: oil, contaminated water, soil, vegetation, debris, and cleanup materials. As of May (2013), Enbridge estimates the company has recovered 1.15 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River." - Environmental Protection Agency

 Read the EPA report 


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