The Canadian energy giant responsible for a pipeline rupture that spilled close to one million gallons of tar sands oil into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River in 2010 has reached a $75 million settlement with the state of Michigan, an amount that leaves environmentalists asking: Is it enough?
According to news reports, the settlement package between the state and Enbridge Energy—which ends any further legal action against Enbridge for the 2010 spill—includes $40 million in already-completed projects and $35 million in work yet to be done, including wetland and habitat restoration, oversight and monitoring, and improvements to water quality.
As the Associated Press notes, "wetlands are considered to be crucial in a watershed, serving as nature’s filter in absorbing and releasing water and providing habitat to fish and wildlife."
The terms of the agreement stipulate that all of the money will be earmarked for restoration and improvement of the affected watershed, and that the money cannot be diverted to unrelated areas of the state budget.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant reportedly described the settlement as a "huge win for Michigan's environment" in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
The Enbridge spill, considered the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, impacted more than 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River and 4,435 acres of adjacent shoreline habitat. The Canada-based pipeline corporation has so far spent more than $1 billion on clean-up and restoration.
In the wake of the spill, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a damning investigation showing that Enbridge ignored warning signs for five years in its pipeline.
Given these facts, not to mention the residual oil still existing in the river, some environmentalists say the settlement is insufficient.
According to Michigan Live:
James Clift, policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council said the dollar amount was a "little low" and worries that it doesn't provide enough punishment to discourage a future spill by a corporation.
"I worry that this won't be the last time we see spills like this. We want to make sure companies are doing everything possible to protect water resources in Michigan," Clift said.
Clift said he was pleased by the money to restore the wetlands and improve hydrology but said the settlement didn't go far enough.
"They should clearly have to pay for the cleanup and reimburse all the costs the state and local officials have paid. That's a given," Clift said. "But it should have also included a larger dollar amount and a pool of money to directly address contaminants in the river that are recoverable."
And Noah Hall, an expert in environmental and water law with Wayne State University in Detroit, told Michigan Radio that the settlement "does not seem to be penalizing Enbridge."
Hall explained: "On one hand, Enbridge is being asked to pay very little in terms of additional penalties above and beyond the damage they caused. On the other hand, because Enbridge’s oil spill contaminated the Kalamazoo River, they’ve already had to pay far more than would be typical after an oil spill to remediate the public resource."
Michigan Radio adds that Enbridge is still negotiating settlements with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as other federal, state, and local entities for damages it caused to natural resources in the state—and that Hall expects the company will get hit with heavy payments in these upcoming settlements.