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Oozing oil in lake: How to fix a decades-old leak?

The government is looking into solutions to a Michigan lake that has had oil oozing into it for more than two decades.

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An oil sheen covers the surface of the water on an inlet of Bear Lake in North Muskegon, Mich., on June 12, 2015.

Joel Bissell/The Muskegon Chronicle/AP

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The government is looking into what it would take to clean up a western Michigan lake that has had oil seeping into it for more than two decades.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked consulting companies to quote a price for conducting a feasibility study on the Bear Lake project, The Muskegon Chronicle reported.

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The aim is to eventually take care of the problem in the Fenner's Ditch bayou area of the lake, which is in Muskegon County's Laketon Township.

David Bandlow, an environmental quality analyst with the DEQ's Remediation and Redevelopment Division, said a study would seek to locate the source of the oil seep and assess containment, disposal or other options. Officials think the oil is from a well drilled in 1929 that was plugged in 1931.

The well was one of hundreds drilled in Laketon Township in the 1920s, but the plugging technique of the time may not have been adequate. Oil eventually started making its way to the surface and neighbors have reported oil smells and slicks since at least the early 1990s.

The state for years has tried to contain the Fenner's Ditch oil slicks with absorbent booms. The leak could be at a house, under a yard or even underwater.

Kathy Evans, environmental planner with West Michigan Shoreline Development Commission, said she is enthusiastic that plans are moving forward.

"It's been a long, long process to get to this point," she said.

The EPA made an attempt to locate the source of the leak in 2012, but that didn't work out. Documents from the 1920s and 1930s aren't precise enough to indicate exactly where the leak is and the well in question was drilled more than 2,000 feet deep.

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"It gets you in the general area, but to locate it exactly you really need to encounter it in the field," Bandlow said.

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegon


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