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Delays Cited in Reporting of Michigan Oil Spill

Aug 2, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Enbridge Energy Partners is facing more scrutiny over last week’s Michigan oil spill. Some government officials are questioning an apparent time lag between Enbridge’s discovery of the spill and when it was reported to the federal government.

The oil spill was discovered last Monday morning on a creek near the company’s pump station in Marshall. The 30-inch pipeline is used to move light synthetic, heavy and medium crude oil northeast about 1,900 miles between Canadian and the US.

The rupture spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the creek, which made its way into the Kalamazoo River. The spill also threatened Lake Michigan, 80 miles away. Dozens of homes had to be evacuated due to air quality concerns, and residents living near the section of river where it occurred were advised to use bottled water.

According to a Bloomberg News report, Enbridge Inc., the Canadian parent of Enbridge Energy, says it has now recovered about half the oil that spilled from the pipe. An official with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Bloomberg that the emergency response to the oil spill should end within a couple of weeks, although it will take “weeks” to get the oil out of the river and “months” to remove oil from marshy areas and flood plain.

According to The Detroit Free Press, U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, a Battle Creek Democrat and member of the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials, has been criticizing Enbridge for what he believes was a slow response to the spill. Schauer, who lives about 15 miles from the spill site, told the Free Press that he believes the oil began spilling into the creek on Sunday.

As we reported previously, 911 calls of a natural gas odor were reported in the area Sunday evening, more than 12 hours before Enbridge says it learned of the leak. A Calhoun County Commission told the Free Press that responding firefighters talked to an Enbridge employee Sunday, who said the smell was coming from a tank belonging to another oil company. However, Enbridge has denied any worker was on the scene Sunday.

According to the Free Press, government logs indicate that Enbridge discovered the leak at 9:45 a.m. Monday, with the company reporting the spill to the federal government four hours later. Enbridge President and CEO Patrick Daniel said the company confirmed the leak at 11:30 a.m. Monday, called the National Response Center at 1 p.m., and was left on hold until 1:33 p.m. He said Enbridge had to quantify the leak before reporting it, according to the Free Press.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, told the Free Press he also has serious concerns “about the apparent delayed reporting and slow response time.” He said had the federal government been notified earlier of the spill, responders may have kept the oil from reaching the Kalamazoo River.

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