The Dilbit Disaster

Posted by Christine, June 26, 2012

Inside Climate News starts a three-part series on the Kalamazoo, Michigan dilbit spill of 2010. It happened during the Deepwater Horizon spill and didn’t get widespread coverage. It’s chilling.

Publisher David Sassoon writes:

It’s the result of a 7-month investigation into the 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill of 1 million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River. Part 1 publishes on InsideClimate News in the morning, and an e-book with all three-parts will be available on Amazon at the same time for those who just can’t wait until Wednesday and Thursday for Parts 2 and 3.

It’s written as a narrative of what happens to two families and an entire community when an oil disaster strikes. But it is also the story of an oil disaster unlike any other, because it involved Canadian diluted bitumen, or dilbit. The EPA thought it was dealing with conventional oil at first — Enbridge didn’t say it wasn’t — and so the agency estimated the clean-up would take 2 months. It has taken almost 2 years, and it is still not over, even though most of the Kalamazoo River opened for recreational use again last week.

For many reasons, the dilbit spill has largely escaped national notice, and our series and our e-book aim to correct that deficiency. The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of describes step-by-step what happened in that spill, and tries to answer questions still unanswered in the debate raging around the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry up to 830,000 barrels of dilbit a day from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Before embarking on this project, our reporters, Elizabeth McGowan and Lisa Song, had traveled to Nebraska, the Dakotas and other states to interview landowners and ranchers who would be directly affected by the Keystone XL. Mostly, they were concerned about water, and the Ogallala aquifer especially.

What happens when dilbit contaminates water, they asked? How do you clean it up? Is it more toxic than conventional oil? Is it more corrosive to pipelines? Who is accountable if a catastrophe should strike? Are federal and state laws stringent enough for the coming dilbit boom?

Finding experts to address these questions was difficult, we discovered, because little information is available about dilbit and how it might react in a spill. So we set out to answer the questions ourselves, by investigating a dilbit spill most people have never heard of.

Read it here.