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Thursday, October 23, 2014


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Oil spill shows a need for change






(Editor’s note: This column was changed to reflect the correct direction of Marshall, Mich., from Portage.)

If now is not the time to “go green,” I do not know when it will be. On July 26, an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. ruptured near the city of Marshall, Mich., about 40 miles northeast of my hometown of Portage.

Although the pipeline has since been shut down, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said more than 1 million gallons of oil spilled into the Talmadge Creek and the connecting Kalamazoo River.

Now, I would not necessarily call myself a tree hugger, but I am environmentally aware. I take long showers, only drink water out of the bottle and burn last semester’s notes with a friend in the woods on campus (take that, English class). In all seriousness — and in an attempt to make up for my past shortcomings — I do not litter, and I rely on the bus much more than the next student.

When I first learned of the “spill” near my hometown, I thought to myself, “Oh, it’s just a minor incident that will be cleaned up in no time.” Compared to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (90 million to 180 million gallons), this local spill seemed like a drop in the bucket. But when I heard about families being forced to evacuate the area and saw a picture of a Canada goose attempting to fly out of the river while covered in oil, but failing to do so, it brought about different emotions than the Gulf disaster.

This time, it’s personal.

I spent the majority of my life in Kalamazoo County and have since grown to love it for all its worth. Western Michigan truly is a beautiful place. From the vineyards and rolling hills of Van Buren County to the sandy beaches of South Haven, I am proud to call the area home. When I hear black oil taints the area water as well as the surrounding environment — even having the slightest potential to snake its way through the Kalamazoo River and into Lake Michigan — I quickly think of incompetence and an overall lack of responsibility.

This area pipeline was not constructed by a higher being, although the people of this country might worship what flows inside it as heavenly. If a pipeline cracks open, sure, it is an accident. An accident that could have been avoided if somebody was doing their job. Do oil companies just build their pipes, send oil gushing through them from point A to point B, and hope for the best?

I won’t act like I am an expert on this subject, because I am not. However, it is common sense to have an inspector or two monitoring what is happening with the pipeline. If humans built it, then they should be able to walk beside it and be sure its structural integrity is stable and secure. If that is completely impossible to accomplish, tell me. The technology is there for remote monitoring, I am sure.
The U.S. is a country that runs on oil, no question. Look at our automobile industry, our main means of transportation — plane, train and automobile — and how we light our homes. An abrupt shift from this way of everyday living to something new and totally progressive would cause mass pandemonium in the streets, but eventually, it will need to happen.

Oil pipelines that crisscross the country above and below ground are like the human body’s circulatory system. We need that system to survive and prosper. And when there is a disruption, it must be tended to. Energy company officials and politicians alike must work together to make sure regulation is stiff and liabilities are few and well-known. Still, there is room to change, evolve and adapt to the modern age.

Unfortunately, the oil industry might never think long-term, because years from now the shift from burning fossil fuels to producing clean energy will come. The oil industry will never change — just look at its industry title, oil — but it can adapt. For each new pipeline, perhaps it could construct a couple dozen wind turbines. I don’t know, it is not for me to figure out.
The environment is like a ticking time bomb. We‘ll trash it until it is unable to replenish itself, and then, who knows?

Hearing about the disaster in the Gulf and how people back home have to cover their noses because of the stench of the oil is just revolting. We can all do our fair share in making sure not only our environment is clean, but sustainable. Call up your representative and ask him or her to come up with solutions for clean and renewable energy. I am not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary.

Andrew Krietz is the State News cops and courts reporter. Reach him at krietzan@msu.edu.


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