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Firm doubles workforce fighting Michigan oil spill

Spill of more than 800,000 gallons coated birds and fish in one of the state's major rivers. Officials hope to contain the oil before it reaches Lake Michigan.

July 28, 2010

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A company operating a pipeline that dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a southern Michigan river said Wednesday it is doubling its workforce on the containment and cleanup effort.

Officials with Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. made the announcement during an update on the spill, which coated birds and fish as it poured into a creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, one of the state's major waterways.

"We've made significant progress," company Chief Executive Patrick D. Daniel said. "But we still have a long way to go in terms of cleanup."

The company had about 200 employees and contractors working on the spill Tuesday, and the Environmental Protection Agency is bringing in additional contractors. There was no update on a possible cause of the spill, cost or length of cleanup.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm toured the area by helicopter Tuesday night and said she wasn't satisfied with the response to the spill. The leak in the 30-inch pipeline, which was built in 1969 and carries about 8 million gallons of oil daily from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, was detected early Monday.

Granholm declared a state of disaster in Calhoun County and potentially affected areas along the river, which bisects the city of Kalamazoo and empties into Lake Michigan. Officials don't think oil will reach the lake, however.

"We don't want to clean up in the lake," said Ralph Dollhopf, an on-scene coordinator of the Environmental Protection Agency. "We want to hold it before it gets to the lake."

Enbridge said Wednesday it still estimated that about 819,000 gallons of oil spilled into Talmadge Creek. But state officials were told during a company briefing Tuesday that an estimated 877,000 gallons spilled, said Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.) said Enbridge was slow in alerting federal authorities of the spill. But the company said the perceived delay was a result of a misunderstanding about the timing of when the leak was discovered and regulations about reporting such spills.

Enbridge said the spill was detected about 10:30 a.m. Monday and confirmed about 11:30 a.m. Schauer released documents saying the incident was not reported to the National Response Center until about 1:30 p.m. There were calls to area fire departments late Sunday complaining about the "bad smell of natural gas," the documents said.

Enbridge said it had to determine the spill's possible volume before calling.

Calhoun County officials said they weren't concerned about the municipal water systems supplying Marshall and Battle Creek. But groundwater testing was expected to begin Wednesday on other water supplies closer to the river.

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