Remember the Kalamazoo River Disaster

Remember the Kalamazoo River and what happened five years ago.

Kalamazoo River Cleanup

Kalamazoo River cleanup. Photo: MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette

Remember July 25, 2010?

That was the day a six-and-a-half-foot rip in an Enbridge pipeline pumped more than a million gallons of stuff called “dilbit” – also known as tar sands oil – into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, and from there down the Kalamazoo River past Galesburg, more than 35 miles downriver from Talmadge Creek. Remember that? Remember the Kalamazoo River spill?

The record still stands: biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

When the alarm went off, on the afternoon of July 25, Enbridge technicians misinterpreted the lack of pressure in the line. They thought they needed to break a blockage, so they turned up the pressure. The following morning, they finally understood what had happened, turned off the flow, and reported the problem. They’d been pumping their black goo into Talmadge Creek and on down the Kalamazoo River for seventeen hours.

Detroit Free Press graphic

Detroit Free Press graphic

Dilbit, the stuff that flowed into the river, is diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a type of heavy, sludgy crude oil that’s hard to pump without diluting it with hydrocarbons. The sludge gradually sank to the bottom while the volatile hydrocarbons – benzene, toluene – poisoned the air. Hundreds of homes and businesses had to be evacuated. About 150 families moved away permanently. (For more complete information, see the comprehensive 2012 report at Inside Climate News.)

At first, Enbridge admitted to spilling about 800,000 gallons. By the time the cleanup was into its fifth year, Enbridge reported that they’d dredged up about 1.1 million gallons. No one can say for sure how much sludge still lies at the bottom of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Kalamazoo River catastrophe was the worst of many, many Enbridge spills, leaks, mistakes, and violations over the years.

Remember 1953?

That was how long ago Enbridge laid Line 5 beneath the Straits of Mackinac. That pipeline turns 62 this year – older than the Mackinac Bridge. Two years ago, the pumps feeding the pipeline were upgraded to push an extra 50,000 barrels a day through the ancient pipeline, with no upgrade to the line itself.

The Great Lakes hold about one fifth of the Earth’s freshwater supply. Some thirty-five to forty million people count on the Great Lakes for clean water.

Remember the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek? Now imagine: For Talmadge Creek imagine the Straits of Mackinac. For the Kalamazoo River, imagine Lake Huron.

We trusted Enbridge with the Kalamazoo River. Should we continue to trust them with the Great Lakes? How much longer should we trust their ancient pipeline beneath the Straits?

Remember Kalamazoo, July 25, 2015

Sierra Club and other groups will join local residents affected by the pipeline spill five years ago.

remember Kalamazoo dredging

Dredging the Kalamazoo River. Photo: MLive

The event will begin at 10:00 AM, Saturday, July 25. Meet at 200 Michigan Avenue West, Suite 101, Battle Creek, MI, 49017.

The day will include

  • a healing walk to the river
  • ceremonies
  • story telling
  • music
  • workshops on fossil fuel resistance and movement building
  • and more

The community and her allies will come together to press officials on tar sands and pipeline issues that afflict people throughout Michigan. We will hear directly from local businesses and families whose lives were devastated.

Join Michigan citizens fighting to prevent what could be another catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac from Enbridge’s dangerous 62-year-old Line 5.

What you need to know if you want to help with the July 25 event:

  • Many volunteers are needed to help with set-up, clean-up, marshaling, greeting, social media and creating and carrying art. Sierra Club members interested in learning more about volunteering should email Michigan Chapter Executive Committee Chair David Holtz at
  • If you want to help turn out Sierra Club members and others for the event please email David to join a weekly conference call on Thursdays at Noon.
  •   If you’re planning to come, please go to this registration page and let us know.

Make sure we remember the Kalamazoo River disaster.

Remember the Kalamazoo River disaster

Dredging the Kalamazoo River. Photo: MLive

The communities of Battle Creek, Marshall, and Galesburg invite the rest of the world to Battle Creek to bear witness to the devastating impacts in the aftermath of the spill and to stand in solidarity with these communities’ struggles. This intentional act of resistance against dangerous tar sands oil is, ultimately, an act of love for communities on the front lines of the fight against dirty and dangerous fossil fuel extraction – a powerful expression, an education, an empowerment.

On July 25th, we will come together to honor the beautiful and complex ecosystem that is the Kalamazoo River and to remind the world that pipelines break and that there’s another Enbridge pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, and it’s 62 years old.

Take action now to shut down Line 5 and fight further tar sands development.

Don’t wait for July 25. Don’t wait for Line 5 to rip open. Don’t wait for more tar sands pipelines to be built.

This 9-video playlist puts the pipeline issue in perspective.

Thanks to Michigan Chapter’s Ed Steinman for putting this together. Watch for the part where a former Enbridge cleanup worker shows the world how Enbridge covered up its mess. Incredible.


Many thanks to Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee Chair David Holtz and to Kzoo5 for much of the above information.