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July 24, 2012

"They said it's just a nuisance, everything's okay. But people were legitimately sick."

Enbridge rupture
Dept. of Transportation photo of the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured in 2010.

"This week, the National Academy of Sciences is holding a hearing on the risks of tar sands-diluted bitumen in pipelines. This panel of scientists, engineers and experts - have any of them actually seen what a million gallons of tar sands does to a river, to a community? If you want to know whether tar sands oil is safe, come to Michigan and see firsthand."

Those are words from Susan C., who lives in Marshall, Michigan, less than a mile from where Enbridge's tar sands oil pipeline ruptured on July 25, 2010. The pipeline spilled more than one million gallons of toxic tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, see in the photo below (click photo to enlarge).

Enbridge spillSusan's family has experienced the health problems from this spill. Both her young children became extremely ill, and today she spoke before the National Academy about her family's trials and tribulations from Enbridge's spill. You can read her entire testimony here (PDF).

And as her quote in the headline of this story shows, they were told numerous times that everything was fine - the fumes from the spill weren't a problem.

It's been two years since the spill and there are still problems. From Susan's testimony:

Two years later, there's residual oil in the river and on the outer banks. We have health concerns, for our children, ourselves and animals. We have concerns about property values and businesses. I received an e-mail from the National Transportation Safety Board saying, "I hope the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board report helps bring closure for the communities who have been impacted by this spill." While the NTSB's findings and recommendations truly helps bring light to the severity of a tar sand spill, it will never bring closure. The oil is still here, we are still here, and the nation, if not the whole world, needs to learn from this tragedy.

Susan also used her testimony today at this hearing on transporting diluted bitumen oil (tar sands oil) in pipelines to discuss the safety risks of doing just that. Sierra Club Washington Representative Lena Moffitt also testified at today's hearing.

Both were shocked during yesterday's testimony by TransCanada (the company who wants to build the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline across the US) officials who said, "Diluted bitumen [tar sands oil] is not any more corrosive than conventional crude. And even if it were, regulations from the Pipeline and Hazardrous Materials Safety Administration are comprehensive enough to prevent failures."

Yet science has shown otherwise. From Susan's testimony:

This tar sands crude is not just regular oil. They call it diluted bitumen. Bitumen is the tar sands crude oil that looks like asphalt. To thin it enough to pump it through a pipeline, they have to dilute it with hydrocarbons filled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals. Then the "dilbit" is pumped through pipes at high pressure and temperature. At normal pressure and temperature, the tar sands are too thick to flow. This stuff is more toxic than regular crude oil...

That's why Susan, Lena, and many others are calling for increased pipeline safety. From Lena's testimony:

While it is clear that this committee is charged with assessing the likelihood, or probability, of a release caused by transporting diluted bitumen as compared to conventional crude, there is a stark need for an assessment of the severity of the impacts of such a release. The Sierra Club, along with our broad coalition of public health and safety, and environmental organizations, has requested that the Pipeline and Hazardrous Materials Safety Administration broaden the scope of the study to include an assessment of the consequences of a diluted bitumen spill.

You can read Lena's entire testimony here (PDF).

This week the Sierra Club is part of a coalition of groups remembering the two-year anniversary of Enbridge's Kalamazoo River oil spill. Groups are holding events nationwide - find one near you.

I'll end with Susan's closing testimony:

Even after all this, I don't oppose pipelines. I am just an advocate for safety. Right now, tar sands are not safe. Tar sands pipelines are not safe. And tar sands companies and the public health officials who are supposed to protect us are not up to the job of keep us safe. I say, come to Michigan and see what a tar sands spill looks like. Because until we are sure beyond any doubt that companies will actually fix faulty pipelines, until we know that public health officials will actually protect our children, until we know what we're dealing with and how to clean it up, tar sands oil is just too dangerous. And if that means not running tar sands through a pipeline, then so be it.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club. Second photo by Lucas Evans. See more photos of the Enbridge spill here.

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