Canadian oil company ordered by EPA to intensify river cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told an oil company it must redouble cleanup efforts for a two-year-old spill that environmentalists have used to criticize the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Canadian oil firm Enbridge was told Wednesday that it needs to do more work in western Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, where in July 2010 one of its pipes carrying oil sands ruptured and released 20,000 barrels of oil.

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Lena Moffitt, a Washington, D.C., representative with the Sierra Club, told The Hill on Wednesday that environmental groups “are definitely going to try to link” the Kalamazoo incident to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which also would carry oil sands.

“There are no regulations to make sure Kalamazoo doesn’t happen again,” Moffitt said. “I think we will be bringing this up every chance we possibly can.”

Environmental opposition to Keystone XL likely had a hand in President Obama's delay on a final decision on the project's northern leg, which requires administration approval because it crosses national borders.

Environmentalists say a Kalamazoo-like incident with Keystone would be dangerous for public health. The proposed Canada-to-Gulf of Mexico pipeline runs through the Ogallala Aquifer — a vital source of drinking water — and the highly erodible Sandhills region in Nebraska.

TransCanada Corp., the Canadian firm behind Keystone XL, has revised the pipeline’s route in an attempt to avoid those environmentally sensitive regions. Environmentalists contend the new path still crosses problematic areas.

Most voters support the idea of Keystone XL. A July Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 62 percent of registered voters favored approving the pipeline.

Republicans say Obama has caved to environmentalist influence at the expense of jobs, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would approve the pipeline his first day in office. The GOP also says Obama’s hesitancy shows he is reluctant to embrace fossil fuels in his energy policy.

The proposed EPA order would require Enbridge to install oil containment devices and equipment in three areas to prevent downstream contamination and remove contaminated sediment and sludge by Aug. 1, 2013.

Terri Larson, an Enbridge spokeswoman, told The Hill that Enbridge has received and is reviewing the proposed order.

Enbridge already has removed 1.1 million gallons of oil and about 200,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and debris, EPA said. The company has 10 days to request a conference with EPA.

In oil sands, the hydrocarbon is a dense, tar-like substance trapped in sand. Oil firms use a lighter hydrocarbon — such as natural gas — to pressure and liquefy the oil sand enough to transport it through pipes.

Industry groups say that while the process and substance is different, oil sands inflict no more wear on pipelines than crude oil.

Diluted bitumen, which is the coveted hydrocarbon combined with the lighter hydrocarbon used in transport, "is no more corrosive in pipelines than other heavy crude oils," according to oil-and-gas interest group the American Petroleum Institute. It said Battelle, a consultancy firm, found six of seven Canadian hydrocarbons derived from oil sands were less corrosive than conventional crude.

Environmentalists disagree — they say oil sands are harder to clean up because the hydrocarbon from oil sands solidifies again and sinks, while the lighter hydrocarbon releases into the air.