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Response to heavy, non-floating oil spilled in a Great Lakes river environment: a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach for submerged oil assessment and recovery

May 1, 2014

The Enbridge Line 6B pipeline release of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River downstream of Marshall, MI in July 2010 is one of the largest freshwater oil spills in North American history. The unprecedented scale of impact and massive quantity of oil released required the development and implementation of new approaches for detection and recovery. At the onset of cleanup, conventional recovery techniques were employed for the initially floating oil and were successful. However, volatilization of the lighter diluent, along with mixing of the oil with sediment during flooded, turbulent river conditions caused the oil to sink and collect in natural deposition areas in the river. For more than three years after the spill, recovery of submerged oil has remained the predominant operational focus of the response.

The recovery complexities for submerged oil mixed with sediment in depositional areas and long-term oil sheening along approximately 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River led to the development of a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach comprising six major components: geomorphic mapping, field assessments of submerged oil (poling), systematic tracking and mapping of oil sheen, hydrodynamic and sediment transport modeling, forensic oil chemistry, and net environmental benefit analysis. The Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) considered this information in determining the appropriate course of action for each impacted segment of the river.

New sources of heavy crude oils like diluted bitumen and increasing transportation of those oils require changes in the way emergency personnel respond to oil spills in the Great Lakes and other freshwater ecosystems. Strategies to recover heavy oils must consider that the oils may suspend or sink in the water column, mix with fine-grained sediment, and accumulate in depositional areas. Early understanding of the potential fate and behavior of diluted bitumen spills when combined with timely, strong conventional recovery methods can significantly influence response success.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Response to heavy, non-floating oil spilled in a Great Lakes river environment: a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach for submerged oil assessment and recovery
DOI 10.7901/2169-3358-2014.1.434
Authors Ralph H. Dollhopf, Faith A. Fitzpatrick, Jeffrey W. Kimble, Daniel M. Capone, Thomas P. Graan, Ronald B. Zelt, Rex Johnson
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70126738
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wisconsin Water Science Center