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Enbridge may face record civil penalty for 2010 oil spill


Enbridge Energy may have to pay a record federal fine for the July 2010 oil spill near Marshall.

But the proposed fine is well below the expected cost of the nearly two-year-long cleanup.


The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration  (PHMSA) has spent the past few years reviewing the events that led up to the oil spill.   

Investigators say the spill started the evening of July 25, 2010, as Enbridge employees in Calgary tried restarting Line 6B after a scheduled shutdown. 

The report claims the employees ignored numerous alarms  “resulting in more pressure that expelled more oil.”   It wasn’t until the next day that the company learned about the oil spill.  The notification came from a local natural gas company employee who was in Marshall responding to complaints of an odor of gas.

The ruptured pipeline leaked more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil. Much of the oil found its way to the Kalamazoo River. Only recently did local and state officials announce the reopening of more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River that had been closed to the public. There are still some pockets of oil in the river.

PHMSA’s investigation found multiple violations of its hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations related to integrity management, failure to follow operations and maintenance procedures, and reporting and operator qualification requirements. PHMSA issued its notice and proposed civil penalty to Enbridge in a Notice of Probable Violation.

The agency is proposing a fine for Enbridge of $3.7 million, which would be a record civil penalty.

Enbridge has said the company expects to spend $700 million cleaning up the spill.

Enbridge is in the process of getting state approval for a new pipeline that would replace the aging Line 6B.  6B has been operating at reduced pressure since it was repaired in the fall of 2010 after the catastrophic break in July of that year.

Enbridge issued a written statement on the PHMSA report:

"Enbridge appreciates the hard work and due diligence that PHMSA has put into this investigation," said Stephen J. Wuori, President, Liquids Pipelines, Enbridge Inc. "Safety has always been core to our operations. Enbridge completed a detailed internal investigation of this incident in the fall of 2010 and has made numerous enhancements to the processes and procedures in our control center since the Line 6B accident, including the training provided to pipeline operators, and has made significant changes in this critical component of our operations. Incident prevention, detection and response have also been enhanced. We will carefully examine the NOPV to determine whether any further adjustments are appropriate."

Enbridge denied to comment on the specific findings in the PHMSA report.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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