About the Kalamazoo tar sands spill

Pipeline spills can and do occur, and there are indications that due to its corrosive qualities, tar sands oil spills are more prevalent than conventional oil spills. Transporting increased amounts of tar sands diluted bitumen is a dangerous trend. Tar sands diluted bitumen has the potential to cause more frequent and serious spills than the industry has previously experienced with conventional crude oil. Here is why:

It is acidic.
Tar sands diluted bitumen normally has organic acid concentrations up to 20 times higher than conventional crude oil, and contains up to 10 times more sulfur.

It is hot.
Tar sands diluted bitumen flowing through pipelines creates friction, which raises the material’s temperature and amplifies its corrosive qualities.

It is abrasive.
Tar sands diluted bitumen has suspended in its mixture abrasive materials like quartz and pyrite and particles.

It is viscous.
Tar sands diluted bitumen is 40 to 70 times more viscous than North American conventional crude oil. This high viscosity requires tar sands pipelines to operate at higher pressures than conventional pipelines.

On July 25, 2010, an Enbridge tar sands pipeline near Marshall, Michigan, burst open, spewing more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen from a large gash in a black pipe. The spill originated in an open field, but the oil eventually flowed into Talmadge Creek, where it traveled several miles before spreading down a 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River and contaminating a lake. Despite multiple alarms and warning signals, operators did not shut down the pipeline for more than 17 hours after the spill began. Tar sands are like hot liquid sandpaper, corroding pipelines faster and risking oil spills along the route. A tar sands spill near rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies causes much more harm than a conventional oil spill because tar sands oil can sink and seriously complicate cleanup efforts.

Shortly after the spill, people in the vicinity began reporting “strong, noxious odors and associated health symptoms.” According to a 2010 report by the Michigan Department of Community Health, in the weeks after the spill, health officials identified 145 patients who reported illness or symptoms associated with the leak. As of spring 2012, the cleanup is continuing with nearly 400 acres identified as having a significant amount of submerged tar sands oil. Its cost is estimated at $725 million.