Five Years after Enbridge Oil Spill, Landowners Await Spring Landscaping of Repaired Line

With the new $2.6 billion pipeline, Enbridge pledges to restore the landscape. But for at least one landowner, the emotional scars may never disappear.

The heavy equipment is gone from David Gallagher’s place in Ceresco, Mich. but awful memories remain for Gallagher of the work to install a new Enbridge, Inc. pipeline. This photo of the pipeline was taken January 2014. Courtesy of David Gallagher

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For weeks, the earth shook regularly outside David Gallagher’s house as the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. replaced its aging oil pipeline known as 6B.

The giant trenching tractors, bulldozers and trucks that once shook his house with the intensity of a small earthquake have disappeared and oil now pulses through the pipeline that runs 14 feet from his house near Ceresco, Mich.

The shaking stopped months ago, but Gallagher remains perhaps even more shaken by the emotional aftershocks of the experience.

Gallagher, a 45-year-old custom cabinet maker and interior contractor, said memories of living in the house will be spoiled by damage done to the land. His wife’s parents built the house in 1973, five years after the original Line 6B had been buried under open farmland.

Now that the machines are gone, Enbridge has vowed to heal the landscape this spring with grass, trees and other native plants destroyed by the years of construction all along the course of the new 285-mile pipeline that stretches from Griffith, Ind. across southern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Enbridge is deactivating the old Line 6B since the new $2.6 billion pipeline and infrastructure went fully operational late last year.

With spring nearing, Jason Manshum, an Enbridge spokesman, said the company plans to embark on a massive restoration project.

‘To Leave As Little Trace of Our Work As Possible’

When we get the growing season back that is when we will go in and start to return the land to its natural state,” he said. “From the beginning, that has always been our intention—to leave as little trace of our work as possible.”

New trees will be planted, grass seed will be sowed and native plants restarted, Manshum said. The goal is to finish the landscape renovation by the end of summer.

He acknowledges that the landscape will take years to recover fully, but the company accepts the responsibility for returning the land to a natural state.

Yet Gallagher, like others along the construction route, fears the promise may be hollow.

“They have not lived up to so many other promises, how can we trust them to do what they say they are going to do?” Gallagher said.

Enbridge faced fierce opposition to new Line 6B from the beginning. Some landowners refused to allow the pipeline on their property, forcing Enbridge to go to court for condemnation of the land. Residents along the pipeline’s path railed over what they said were Enbridge’s bullying tactics—some even sat in the path of heavy equipment to halt the pipeline’s progress.

The company insisted the pipeline was a needed upgrade and would pose less of a threat to leak than the older 6B. The pipeline also would play a critical role in moving oil to refineries to meet the public’s need for products such as gasoline and diesel, the company argued.

Manshum said the company is committed to working with property owners who have concerns regarding restoration of their land.

“The Line 6B Replacement project has been ongoing for more than two years, so we recognize that we have caused inconvenience for some landowners,” he said.

“We want everyone to have been taken care of by the end of 2015 and have plans to make sure that happens.”

Calamity on the Kalamazoo

Even if the grass grows back and the nagging drainage issues that keep the entrance to Gallagher’s workshop perpetually swampy are resolved, he said it will be only an esthetic fix that won’t erase the trauma.

“I’ll never be able to look over my land again without seeing the destruction in the back of my mind,” Gallagher said. “I hope nature takes its course and the land regains its natural state, but I’ll always know what is beneath it all.”

Gallagher asked Enbridge to buy his house, but he said the company didn’t respond. He ultimately agreed to a $16,000 “close proximity” fee plus $6,400 for extra land Enbridge took.

The construction of new line 6B, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels a day, was triggered by the rupture of Enbridge’s 42-year-old Line 6B near Marshall, Mich., in 2010; that spill dumped more than 1 million gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland pipeline oil spill in U.S. history and kept sections along nearly 40 miles of the river closed for two years.

The line that ruptured carried bitumen, a thick crude oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands region. The new line also carries the tar sands oil, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil reserves.

Although the Kalamazoo is now open and the Environmental Protection Agency has turned over responsibility for monitoring the river to Michigan environmental officials, Enbridge and the EPA remain locked in discussions over penalties associated with the spill.

A resolution is expected sometime this year, Manshum said.