By Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald, July 4, 2012
Calgary - Industry watchers and environmental groups are calling for tighter pipeline monitoring regulations, one day after a $3.7 million civil fine was issued against Enbridge Inc. for a 2010 Michigan oil spill.
The fine, the largest ever proposed by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is based on an investigation by the U.S. pipeline regulator in the aftermath of the July 25 rupture on Enbridge’s line near Marshall, Mich.
The PHMSA said Enbridge did not initiate its emergency spill procedures until 17 hours after the rupture occurred — even though the company’s Control Centre in Edmonton received multiple alarms and indications of abnormal operations as soon as the incident occurred. The regulator also stated previous in-line inspections by Enbridge had found “multiple corrosion and crack-like anomalies” on the pipe in question, but followup examinations and repairs never occurred.
Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University, said questions should be raised about whether existing regulations are effective when it comes to laying out emergency spill procedures for pipeline operators.
“The real problem is not that there’s a spill — I think everyone accepts that if you have a lot of infrastructure, there’s going to be spills. (The problem) is how the company responds,” Mabee said. “I do think we need tighter regulations.”
Leaks will become more likely as the North American pipeline system ages and becomes more complex and the existing regulatory framework may not be enough to convince the public the infrastructure is being operated in the safest possible way, he said.
Nathan Lemphers — senior policy analyst at environmental think-tank The Pembina Institute — agreed, pointing to a December 2010 report by federal Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughn. That report said the National Energy Board — which oversees 71,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada — is not doing enough to follow up with the companies it monitors or to ensure identified deficiencies are corrected.
“There’s also a need provincially for a comprehensive review on how pipelines are managed in this province,” Lemphers said. “It would go a long way toward addressing these regulatory blind spots ... and go a long way toward improving safety.”
Enbridge has 30 days to respond to the proposed penalty.
In a statement, Stephen Wuori — Enbridge president of liquids pipelines — said the company will not comment on the details of the notice of violation until it has had time to thoroughly review it. However, he said the company has improved its prevention, detection, and response procedures since the 2010 incident and will be carefully examining the notice to determine if further adjustments are appropriate.
More than 20,000 barrels of crude leaked into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in the 2010 spill. Cleanup is still ongoing and is estimated at a cost of $725 million. In June, the Kalamazoo River and Morrow Lake reopened for recreational use.
According to the notice of probable violation, the rupture occurred at 5:58 p.m. on the day Enbridge was undertaking what was supposed to be a routine 10-hour shutdown of the pipe. As soon as the failure occurred, the Control Centre in Edmonton received multiple alarms and indications of abnormal operations on the line, but the company did not execute its suspected leak or emergency procedures. Instead, the pipe remained idle until a new shift came in at 4 a.m. July 26 and initiated a scheduled restart. Alarms went off again, but the company continued to pump crude oil into the line for an hour before shutting it off.
The PHMSA notice states an attempt to restart the pipeline took place at 7:20 a.m., at which point there were more alarms. The restart was halted at 7:51 a.m., but emergency response plans were not initiated until 11:18 a.m., 17 hours after the rupture, when Enbridge received a call from an employee of a local gas company reporting oil in a creek. During that 17-hour period, 16,341 barrels of oil were injected into the pipeline.
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