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The 90 Day Plan

Monday, August 2, 2010

Officials Say Midwest Spill Will Take Months to Clean


BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Officials investigating the cause of a huge oil spill along a major river in southern Michigan say that it will take months to clean up, and that damage to wetlands and wildlife may last considerably longer.

Enbridge Energy Partners, the owner of the ruptured pipeline that released the crude into the Kalamazoo River, says the spill is contained. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, who toured the affected area by helicopter on Friday, said the company's handling of the problem had improved since she criticized it a few days ago.

"I can say there's been significant progress," Ms. Granholm said at a news conference. "I don't want to suggest we are satisfied. We continue to ask for additional resources."

Even as Enbridge shifts its focus toward cleaning up the oil, which it estimates at about 800,000 gallons, the company was preparing to remove the damaged section of pipe. The Environmental Protection Agency puts the size of the spill at more than one million gallons.

"There's still a tremendous amount of work to do," said Alan Roth, a spokesman for Enbridge, "but good progress is being made."

The E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said she was "very confident" that the oil would not reach Lake Michigan, about 80 miles from where the spill occurred.

Enbridge said that it had recovered 100,800 gallons of oil and that 420,000 gallons were in a holding area and would be pumped into tanks.

Federal and company officials said they were close to reaching the 40-foot section of pipe with the break, which has been inaccessible because it is in a marshy area covered in oil. Only when the pipe is reached will it be certain that the leak has stopped, said Ralph Dollhopf, the on-scene coordinator for the E.P.A.

Once removed, the pipe will be taken to a National Transportation Safety Board laboratory for tests, said Matt Nicholson, the agency's lead investigator. A team from the E.P.A.'s Office of Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will be on site for up to 10 days, he said.

Scientists fear that the worst may be yet to come for fish in the river. Jay Wesley, a biologist with the State of Michigan, said the oil spill had killed fish in "very limited numbers" along the affected stretch of the river, from Marshall westward into Battle Creek.

The bigger problems for fish may come within a week or so, if the spill results in decreased oxygen levels in the water. Mr. Wesley said insects, algae, frogs and turtles had been killed in high numbers, which could hurt the fish food supply.

"The effects are probably going to be more long-term," Mr. Wesley said. "We probably won't know the full effects for weeks or months or years."

The Marshall area has been considered a good area for bass fishing. Recreational anglers also fish the area for northern pike, catfish and suckers. Until the spill occurred, health officials considered fish taken from the waters from Marshall to Battle Creek all right to eat in limited amounts — unlike those from a downstream, westward stretch from Kalamazoo that is laden with PCBs and is on the federal Superfund list of highly contaminated areas.

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