Oil spill workers have been instructed to shift their focus from containment to cleanup one week after the Enbridge pipeline break spilled about three million litres of crude into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Crews will begin recovering and removing sheen and small patches of oil on the river at the 36 containment boom sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy incident commander Mark Durno said at a news conference Sunday.
"Right now we're at a point where we need to get watercraft and personnel on the water … to remove the sheen on the river as opposed to containing it," Mr. Durno said.
Calgary-based Enbridge has so far removed about 1.5 million litres, Enbridge Liquids Pipelines executive vice-president Steve Wuori said Sunday.
There has been a "significant improvement" at the spill site over the past few days, EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said.
Workers will be washing the shoreline and removing vegetation to eliminate the chance the oil will re-enter the river in the event of heavy rains, Mr. Durno said.
It will take weeks before all the oil is taken out of the river, months before the oil is off flood plains and river banks and several months before the oil is cleaned from the location of the spill at Tallmadge Creek, Mr. Durno said.
"Three days ago, the first 10 miles of that river you saw oil. Yesterday, we saw a lot of sheen. Now, we're seeing diminishing sheen. We're going to see progress every single day," he said.
It's still not clear why the 76-centimetre-diameter pipeline that carries about 30 million litres of oil per day between Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia, Ont., was breached. "We have a lot of information that supports some theories or probable causes out there but I'm not going to get into that," said Matt Nicholson, National Transportation Safety Board investigator in charge. "We're not going to draw any conclusions at this time."
The NTSB, responsible for investigating the pipeline breach, expects to excavate a 140-foot section of the pipe late Monday, Mr. Nicholson said. The size of the rupture is still unknown, he added. Officials from Enbridge and the NTSB examined the damaged section of the pipe Saturday when it was pulled out of the marshy area it runs through. The pipeline will not return to service until Enbridge has regulatory approval, chief executive officer Pat Daniel said.
Mr. Daniel went on the defensive Sunday and addressed "misinformation" circulating about the number of people and animals affected by the spill from people he said are not directly involved in the spill investigation.
"These individuals are doing a disservice to the people of this community and to the agencies who are working so hard to address this issue," Mr. Daniel said.
He also reiterated that Enbridge is accepting claims of damage from the spill, and that it's not necessary for people and businesses to file lawsuits.
"People do not have to sue Enbridge to be reimbursed. We will pay all the legitimate damages from the spill," he said.
That's relieving news for Marc LeBlanc and his wife, Diane, who have run the Shady Bend Campground in Augusta, Mich., for the past 21 years.
It's peak season at their campground on the Kalamazoo River, but the canoes are locked up, inner-tubes are on racks and picnic tables are empty.
Song birds compete with the steady hum of a vacuum truck sucking up oil as workers in yellow vests trudge along the Kalamazoo River shore line, where the grass is stained black.
After the county health department told them Tuesday morning that no one is to go near the water, they were forced to close the campground and cancel reservations.
"People want to sit on the river bank and fish and swim," Mr. LeBlanc said. "Nobody just wants to sit here and watch the oil flow by."
The LeBlancs are some of the many homeowners and businesses applying to Enbridge for compensation.
Enbridge has been co-operative in the claims process, Mr. LeBlanc said. As long as he receives a cheque for the $60,000 he expects he will lose this season, he will be satisfied, he said.
"I can't afford to wait months for my money," said Mr. LeBlanc, who works as a building contractor during the off-season. His wife is a bartender, he said.
"It's sickening. This is my livelihood," Mr. LeBlanc said.
Editor's Note: Enbridge has removed about 1.5 million litres of oil. The story originally reported the measurement in barrels. This version has been corrected.