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After “uncommon” incident, regulators keeping a close eye on Enbridge Energy pipeline installation

Federal regulators are overseeing the installation of an oil pipeline after an accident last week near Ceresco.

It’s hard for Dave Gallagher not to watch the work. The pipeline is going in just 12 feet behind his house.

“Yeah they’re really scrutinizing that pipe now. There’s like 10 people down there,” Gallagher said, watching from his back porch Wednesday afternoon.

Last week he saw (and videotaped part of the incident) one crane that was helping to lower a 461-foot section of pipe suddenly tip over on its side. He says it appeared the cranes were trying to maneuver the pipe under some electrical lines running from his house to another building on his property.

No one was hurt in the accident. But Gallagher worried about the integrity of the pipe when workers righted the crane and kept installing the pipe as if nothing had happened. He estimates it took about 35-40 minutes from when the crane tipped over until the pipe was in place.

Gallagher and another witness say they did not see workers lift the pipe out of the trench or go down into the trench to look at it. He says they asked the crew why they didn’t inspect the pipe.

"Instead of the workers being proactive and saying, you know, ‘Hey, we’ll get someone out here to talk to you’ or ‘That’s in the process of being inspected,’ they simply just said ‘that’s not our job,'” Gallagher said.

Enbridge Energy disagrees with Gallagher. Enbridge community relations advisor Jennifer Smith says three of their lead inspectors were on hand and did a visual inspection of the pipe. She says further inspection would’ve been completed once the section of pipe was installed.

Gallagher contacted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Damon Hill is a public affairs specialist with PHMSA. He couldn’t say whether there were any immediate safety concerns.

“I wasn’t part of the conversation so I can’t necessarily say how the conversation took place but I do know that we did have a conversation with Enbridge following the incident and we wanted them to take any actions that were necessary to alleviate any safety concerns,” Hill said.

Smith says the agency suggested Enbridge dig that section up and replace it.

“They came back and said, ‘Hey, Enbridge maybe you guys should just replace that’ and we thought you know what, let’s just go ahead. We’ve got residents that have concerns. We’re going to go ahead and we welded up a new segment and that’s what went into the ground,” Smith said.

“I’m not sure what action the operator would’ve taken without us knowing about it, but we’re very glad that that we were contacted about it and that we could be able to communicate with Enbridge to determine what actions were best,” PHMSA spokesman Damon Hill said.

He says PHMSA does regular construction inspections but in this case the regional director is having an inspector observe the installation of the replacement section of pipe. “Construction activities and having qualified workers doing these activities are something that we oversee,” he said.

Hill said he’s never heard of a similar incident happening. Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith called it “uncommon.”

Smith said the company is conducting its own investigation. She said that will include doing non-destructive tests on the section of pipe that fell. “We’re very confident that those tests will show that the segment was just fine,” Smith said. When asked whether the section could be used in another location, Smith said “probably not.”

“Our first priority is always safety and that’s for the public as well as our own employees and contractors. Situations like this are uncommon but we’re reviewing what happened on January 8 and we’ll take steps to prevent that something like this doesn’t happen in the future,” she added.

Enbridge hired Precision Pipeline LLC to do the pipeline construction. Cameron Klein, vice president of environment, health and safety at Precision, also insists the pipeline was lifted out of the trench after it fell for a visual inspection. “It doesn’t take that long,” Klein said, noting inspectors would be able to see flaws in the coating on the outside of the pipeline.

Gallagher wouldn’t say he’s relieved that the pipe is being replaced.

“The comforting thought is to know that someone outside of Enbridge is here overseeing this process, but that’s the problem in the whole with all this pipeline industry –that there’s not inspectors inspecting every foot of these pipes going in,” Gallagher said.

Enbridge’s line 6B will replace the pipeline that burst near Marshall, Michigan in 2010, sending tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. It’s the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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