First of a two-part series.
Jeff Harrell, South Bend Tribune Discussion »
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA The seasonal Pokagon blessing of the sacred water greeted the summer at sunrise.
Andy Jackson led her Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Water Walkers, carrying a copper bucket of water, continuously swirling with her hands for constant flow forward as they walked, blessing the small spring-fed lake off Gage Street on the Pokagon Reservation in Dowagiac.
“We say a prayer over it,”
says Jackson, the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe's cultural director.
“We pray for all four directions for that water, for the future of seven generations ahead so that they have clean water.”
"Because with the information you have now, you don't know if there's going to be clean water for them, or if they have water to swim in, or to drink, or to just leave that faucet on and brush your teeth like we do now."
Jackson fixes her gaze out toward Rogers Lake, the other body of water on the Pokagon Reservation that gets a seasonal blessing from the Water Walkers, then returns the conversation to the Gage Street lake.
"The water is so clear there, you can see the bottom,"
"We pray for that. We pray for our kids to have it, and for them to be able to have it always, and to bring awareness to them to take care of it."
Spill on the river
Indian water blessings were damned in July 2010 when one of the world's longest pipelines ruptured, spilling more than 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 36 miles of river water were contaminated before cleanup workers managed to stop it 70 "river miles" shy of Lake Michigan.
"It was just devastation,"
says Jackson, who accompanied her husband near Battle Creek to help with the cleanup.
"It was just sad to see the empty homes nice brick homes in a row, and they were all empty."
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) leveled $3.7 million in fines against Enbridge Energy Partners, the Canadian company operating Line 6B that ruptured near Marshall, for breaking more than 20 federal rules that caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
"We issued the highest civil balance in the agency's history as a result of that failure in Marshall,"
says Damon Hill, spokesman for the PHMSA.
"We also imposed stringent safety requirements to Enbridge to improve on its entire linkage system,"
Three years later, cleanup and dredging at the Kalamazoo River continues.
In its report on the status of the cleanup released in June, the EPA estimated that Enbridge has cleaned 1.15 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River.
"A tremendous amount of work has been done and accomplished between Enbridge, contractors, and federal and state regulators,"
says Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum.
Meanwhile, Enbridge remains under EPA orders to remove an additional 12,000 to 18,000 gallons by dredging.
The reason for the slow cleanup, the EPA says, lies in spilled heavy crude "tar sands oil" that "sank and mixed with river sediment, making it difficult to locate and remove without doing additional environmental damage."
On July 30, the EPA issued a report saying Enbridge would triple the amount of contaminated sediment it dredges. The cleanup project, which currently closes off 12 miles of the river, will end up dredging about 350,000 cubic yards of sediment, according to the EPA.
"We have an approved worked plan,"
"However, we cannot start the work yet until we get approval from the State of Michigan in the form of receiving permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality."
Of five permit applications submitted to the state DEQ to continue working at five different dredging sites, Manshum says two have been returned with approvals.
The Natural Resources Defense Council deems tar sands a "dirty fuel" that is highly toxic and risky to the environment and public health throughout its entire life cycle of extraction, pipeline transport, refining and combustion.
When tar sands pipelines rupture and spill the heavy crude into rivers, the diluted bitumen black, sticky substance that gives oil thickness separate, become submerged and are impossible to fully clean up, the NRDC concludes.
But a recent study conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences contradicted the NRDC, finding that diluted bitumen "would not contribute to more pipeline corrosion compared with conventional heavy crude."
Manshum calls the term
“tar sands“ a misnomer, a slang word associated with this type of crude by opponents.”
“It's actually a heavy crude oil derived from oil sands in Alberta,”
"When it gets to the point where it's transported via pipeline that heavy Canadian crude, which is diluted bitumen it is just like any other heavy crude oil that would be transported."
On March 29, the Exxon Mobil Corp.-owned Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., spilling 400,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the small commuter town. The spill forced homes to be evacuated and left residents complaining of a variety of health effects.
In January, in the continuing wake of the Kalamazoo River spill and two months before the Mayflower spill, the Michigan Public Service Commission gave Enbridge state approval to replace its old pipeline with a larger pipeline to pump tar sands oil from northwest Indiana through Michiana and southern Michigan. In a statement released after the approval, the commission reasoned:
"In approving the company's application, the MPSC said the pipeline will serve a public need, is designed and routed in a reasonable manner, and meets or exceeds current safety and engineering standards."
Law enhances penalties
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, took time between voting to speak over the phone from the floor of the U.S. Capitol about the bill he sponsored in 2011 that was set up to ensure safeguards in the new Enbridge pipeline.
The Michigan lawmaker initiated the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Act a bill Upton ushered across the aisle to pass unanimously through the U.S. House in 2011 in the wake of the Kalamazoo River spill.
The law reauthorized federal pipeline safety programs regulated by the
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Editor's Note: The South Bend Tribune first published this two part article. It is being republished in the Native News Network with permission.
posted August 10, 2013 12:20 pm edt