DETROIT Oil spilled from a pipeline in Michigan does not present a threat to the Great Lakes and the spill has been contained on a river about 50 miles inland from Lake Michigan, federal officials said on Thursday.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing the cleanup of an estimated 820,000 gallons of oil (19,500 barrels) that spilled from an Enbridge Inc pipeline said they hoped to contain the damage at Morrow Lake, just east of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
"We do not anticipate that Lake Michigan is at risk," Ralph Dollhopf, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA told reporters.
The Enbridge spill that started Monday follows the devastating BP Plc spill in the Gulf of Mexico and has been watched with concern in part because of its threat to Lake Michigan, part of the largest supply of fresh water on the planet.
Enbridge Chief Executive Patrick Daniel said the company was convinced that the was "no further oil leaking," but he declined to give an estimate of when the repair work would be done and the pipeline would be cleared to resume operation.
Daniel apologized to the people who live near the spill "for the mess that we have made to properties and to the river.
"We are responsible for the cleanup and we will be here until you are happy in this community... that we have completed our responsibilities."
Daniel said, "We have a huge job in front of us. There is no doubt about that."
Tom Sands, a Michigan state police captain overseeing Michigan's emergency response, said he had seen what appeared to be oil floating on the surface of Morrow Lake and challenged the EPA's account of its success.
"I saw the sheen. I photographed the sheen," he told reporters. "Did I test it? No."
Sands said he had reported to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm that the early response to the spill appeared to be "wholly inadequate" to prevent the oil from heading further down the Kalamazoo River system toward Lake Michigan.
"This is a serious situation and we need more resources," he said.
Granholm has declared a disaster for the area along the Kalamazoo River because of the spill. Crews with containment booms have been working along the Kalamazoo River since Tuesday.
Enbridge, which ships most of Canada's oil to the United states, said it been working to dig up the damaged section of the oil pipeline on Thursday.
That is the first step toward repairing the 30-inch diameter pipe in a marshy area along the Talmadge Creek near Marshall, Michigan, company representatives said.
Local health officials said residents in about 100 homes along the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, Michigan had been warned to stop using their tap water because of fears of contamination from oil seeping into their wells.
Residents from another 50 houses near the worst of the pooled oil were being asked to evacuate because of the health risk from fumes.
Cereal maker Kellogg Co said it had shut down its manufacturing operations in Battle Creek for a few hours on Tuesday because it was concerned that the fumes from the oil spill could endanger its workers.
"Local and federal officials assure us that air and water quality levels are well within the range considered safe and we resumed operations," said Kris Charles, a Kellogg spokeswoman.
The damaged Enbridge pipeline runs from northern Indiana through Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario.
Refineries in Detroit, Toledo and in Ontario that use crude from the pipeline have four to five days of stored supply, plus other pipeline alternatives, so should be able to operate, Daniel said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)