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Enbridge Broke Reporting Rules in Michigan Oil Spill, Rep Claims

Aug 5, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Enbridge Inc., the owner of the pipeline that caused last week’s Michigan oil spill, has been accused of breaking federal rules by waiting too long to report the pipeline rupture that caused the spill. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Mark Schauer, a Michigan Democrat, contends the pipe began leaking on Sunday, June 25. But Enbridge has insisted it did not confirm a rupture until the following morning.

Federal rules require pipeline operators to report releases of more than 5 gallons of hazardous liquids “at the earliest practicable moment” following their discovery.

The spill occurred along 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. What caused the spill is still under investigation.

The rupture spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the creek, which made its way into the Kalamazoo River, and threatened to reach Lake Michigan. 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.

Shortly after word of the spill went public, controversy erupted over Enbridge’s reporting of it. As we wrote 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. The Detroit Free Press had previously reported that a Calhoun County Commission claimed 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.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also said earlier this week that it was investigating a pressure alarm that went off at Enbridge around 6 p.m. on the evening of July 25, 19 hours before the company reported the spill. Investigators are trying to determine if the pressure drop was because of the spill, or whether the drop was dramatic enough to prompt concerns about a rupture.

Government logs obtained by the Detroit Free 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 has 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 Associated Press, Schauer, who lives about 15 miles from the spill site, pointed out that Enbridge began laying boom material to contain the oil two hours before it reported the spill to the federal government.

“It’s increasingly clear that the pipe was leaking for hours before it was reported,” Schauer told reporters during a phone call yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

Schauer told reporters that the NTSB believes the rupture may have occurred shortly before 6 p.m. on July 25, when Enbridge shut down the pipeline for maintenance. Enbridge restarted the pipeline at 4:26 a.m. the next day and repeatedly turned it on and off for the next several hours because of spikes in readings, Schauer said.

A company technician visited the site at 9:49 a.m. but found nothing, Schauer said. Enbridge confirmed the leak only after being notified by Consumers Energy at 11:16 a.m., he said.

As we’ve reported previously, Schauer is a member of the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials. His committee is investigating the oil spill.

So far, Enbridge has not commented on Schauer’s version of events, the Associated Press said.


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