Crews continue oil spill cleanup

BEAR LAKE TWP. — Cleanup continues in response to an oil leak off Eight Mile Road in Bear Lake Township.

According to the Department of Environmental Quality, Merit Energy Company reported the spill on Dec. 27.

“The company noted their gas production falling off,” said Bob Versical of DEQ Cadillac. “Lo and behold they found where some crude oil and brine had bubbled up to the surface in that wetland area.”

Versical said an estimated 50 barrels of oil leaked across a half acre of wetland, located between U.S. 31 and Chief Road.

“They called us immediately and started to de-water in order to facilitate the excavation process,” Versical said of the initial measures to remedy the spill. “They pumped out the water, contained it in tanks and then trucked the water off sight for appropriate disposal.

“Now, they’re running water through a carbon treatment system and discharging back into the wetland outside of the area of where the petroleum impact exists,” he added. “Now they can effectively pump 24/7, with personnel on site.

“It’s an ongoing process, but now that they are effectively de-watering, I anticipate they may be in there for another week or so, remedying the surficial impacts.”

According to Versical, the next steps of the process will involve monitoring and restoring the affected area.

“There’s going to be some long term monitoring, absolutely,” he said. “We just don’t have enough information yet to decide on what needs to be done for a final remedy.

“Ultimately, (Merit) is obligated to restore that wetland area to its original conditions,” Versical added. “They’re going to have to bring in organic fill material and reestablish the wetland vegetation to make sure it is consistent with the surrounding vegetation, and monitor to ensure no invasive species are introduced.

“The wetland restoration is going to take some time,” he said. “It could be a growing season or two, at least.

Versical said while oil spills aren’t necessarily uncommon, this pariticalar case was the region’s largest in 2017.

“In our Cadillac district (which covers six counties), we had 27 spills last year,” he said. “Volumetrically, we’re talking anything from a couple of gallons to one like this, which is nearly 50 barrels.”

Versical said the damage is contained to area in which the leak occurred, and no homes nor drinking water have been affected.

Several attempts to contact Merit Energy for this story went unanswered.

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