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New Beer Lawsuit Could Spell Trouble For Keystone XL Pipeline

Bell’s Brewery, which bills itself as the oldest and largest brewery in Michigan, has just filed a lawsuit against the company Enbridge and if that name doesn’t ring a bell, think back to July 26, 2010 when an Enbridge pipeline broke and spilled an estimated 843,00 gallons of Line 6B oil into the Kalamazoo River, making it the largest tar sands oil spill in US history. How does that affect the proposed Keystone XL pipeline? Just for starters, it undercuts the safety claims of pipeline advocates. The Enbridge cleanup is not nearly complete after three full years, and EPA has all but admitted that up to 168,000 gallons of oil will remain in the Kalamazoo River indefinitely.

Bell's Brewery pipeline lawsuit spells trouble for Enbridge

Bell’s Brewery (cropped) courtesy of Bell’s Brewery.

The Bell’s Brewery Lawsuit

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the lawsuit, let’s note for the record that the beer from Bell’s Brewery is not affected by the Enbridge Pipeline spill, since the company’s Comstock brewery uses the municipal water system. However, the company became concerned about the latest phase of Enbridge’s cleanup work, which involved constructing a facility to process dredged sediment a few hundred feet from the brewery.

In a statement issued on July 2, Larry Bell, President of Bell’s Brewery, explained:

“As Michigan’s oldest and largest brewery, Bell’s has a longstanding commitment to quality. While Bell’s uses water from the municipal water system to brew our beer, the pristine cleanliness of the water and air around our brewery and neighbors is of the utmost importance to us.”

Evidently Bell’s concerns were not addressed, because last week the company filed a lawsuit against Enbridge and CCP, the developer of the site where the pollution facility is being located, at Comstock Commerce Park. The facility will be used to process sediment dredged from a delta near Morrow Lake.

As reported by Ursula Zerilli of, the lawsuit alleges that Enbridge and the developer failed to notify Comstock Township of the work, and CCP failed to notify other businesses on the property as required by Michigan law.

Enbridge And Keystone

The Enbridge lawsuit brings attention to the entire oil pipeline safety issue, specifically related to the transportation of tar sands oil, and that’s probably the last thing that is wanted by TransCanada, the Canadian company that owns the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Like the Enbridge pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline will carry a doctored form of tar sands oil called diluted bitumen, aka dilbit, and the Kalamazoo spill provides a textbook example of the difference between a dilbit spill and a conventional oil spill.

A conventional oil spill in a waterway is bad enough, but most of the oil rises to the surface where it can be contained by booms and skimmed off or soaked up. In contrast, dilbit sinks into the sediment.

According to Enbridge’s latest estimate, as of this May the company has recovered about 1.15 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River. EPA estimates that up to another 18,000 gallons can be recovered from river bottom sediment by dredging.

That leaves tens of thousands of gallons to be addressed, and according to EPA that will be a long, tedious process:

“The 162,000-168,000 gallons of oil that will remain in the river after this dredging work is complete will not be able to be recovered right away without causing significant adverse impacts to the river. Instead, it must be carefully monitored and collected over time using traps that gather contaminated sediment. Future oil recovery will depend on whether the crude eventually moves to the areas with these sediment traps.”

The bottom line for the Keystone XL pipeline: while overall pipeline safety could be as good as the industry claims, accidents do happen, and when they do the consequences can be catastrophic and long-lasting.

That’s a particular problem for Keystone, which will cut through hundreds of waterways en route through the heartland states from Canada to the Gulf Coast. In that regard, it’s worth recalling that the State Department’s recent environmental impact statement for the project received a polite but forceful “fail” from EPA, particularly regarding risk mitigation and remediation.

It doesn’t help much that the lawsuit comes just a few weeks after President Obama’s major climate change speech, in which he specifically carbon-shamed the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Keystone XL Pipeline And Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Keystone advocates have positioned the pipeline as a job-creating engine. However, in reality the project involves only a few permanent positions. On the bright side: far more long-term work could result if there’s a spill or break, as illustrated by the Enbridge experience.

As for job-creating engines, take a look at Bell’s Brewery and you’ll see where the real action is going on.

The company’s recent expansion and sustainability investments are supporting plenty of new jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors, some highlights being geothermal fields for its corporate offices and its new brew house, a green roof for the conditioning warehouse, high efficiency lighting, and a new heat recycling system.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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