Not any more

Alert raised weeks before oil spill on repair-plagued Enbridge pipeline

In Canada on July 30, 2010 at 08:33

Enbridge Inc. faces a growing public-relations nightmare around an oil spill in Michigan waters amid reports the company knew of corrosion on the ruptured line weeks before the incident.

The Calgary-based company, under fire for a 3.3-million-litre crude oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, admitted Thursday the aging Line 6B had been subject to more than 100 repairs during the past year.

But the ruptured pipe near the town of Marshall had not been tagged as a hot spot in Enbridge’s maintenance plan.

“This was not an area identified for replacement,” said Steve Wuori, executive vice-president of liquids pipelines.

Speaking from the unified command centre in Battle River, Mich., Wuori said a complete in-line inspection had been made on the Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ont., line in 2009, resulting in 139 “digs” on the system so far this year.

According to a letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Enbridge Energy Partners — the Houstonbased subsidiary operating the 190,000 barrel per day line — informed the department earlier in July the 41-year-old pipe likely was corroded and needed replacing.

Weeks later, on July 26, a section of the underground pipeline burst, spewing at least 19,500 barrels of crude into a creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River.

By Thursday more than 50 families had been evacuated from homes close to the contaminated river because of elevated benzine levels in the air, Michigan health officials said.

“I will tell you that at the beginning of this we were more focused on the short-term numbers,” said Jim Rutherford, health official with Calhoun County. “The numbers we are now looking at are long-term exposure numbers, so we have identified as a result an area that we need to evacuate.”

Residents of another 200 homes along the tainted river have been told to avoid drinking well water in favour of bottled water — supplied by Enbridge — as a precautionary measure.

In a new development, Enbridge revealed the underground pipeline, part of its Lakehead system, had been shut down for routine maintenance for 10 hours Sunday, then restarted Monday morning when the leak was discovered.

The pipeline company had previously been told by federal agents to reduce in-line pressure along other portions of its network.

Enbridge is no stranger to spills along its vast network of pipelines that flow the bulk of Canadian oil exports to terminals and refineries in the United States.

According to the transportation department, Enbridge has spilled about 1.5 million litres of oil since 2002, roughly half the amount released in a matter of hours before the Michigan leak was contained.

Beleaguered chief executive Pat Daniel apologized again to the public Thursday for “the mess that we have made.

“We take full responsibilities for the cleanup and will be here until you are happy in this community and this county that we have completed our responsibilities,” he said from Battle Creek, Mich., where he has been overseeing operations.

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