Enbridge barred from restarting leaky oil pipeline

August 1 2012

Enbridge won’t be allowed to resume oil transmission in its leaky Wisconsin pipeline until it can prove it’s safe, according to a U.S. government order.

The pipeline, which carries Canadian crude oil to refineries in the Chicago area, ruptured on Friday and spilled about 1,200 barrels (190,000 litres) onto farmland, forcing the evacuation of two homes and threatening a drinking-water source four kilometres away.

“Accidents like the one in Wisconsin are absolutely unacceptable,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Tuesday.

“I will soon meet with Enbridge’s leadership team and they will need to demonstrate why they should be allowed to continue to operate this Wisconsin pipeline without either a significant overhaul or a complete replacement.”

The U.S. Transportation Department’s pipeline-safety agency issued what’s called a corrective action order on Monday, in which it finds a subsidiary of Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. would risk “life, property and the environment” if it restarted the pipeline without “immediate corrective action.”

The order notes that the 750-kilometre-long segment of pipe that ruptured has had problems before, notably in 2007, when 1,500 barrels of oil spilled in Atwood, Wis. Following that leak, tests by Enbridge found “multiple crack anomalies” in the piping.

“The history of failures on respondent’s Lakehead Pipeline system,… defects originally discovered during construction, and the 2007 failure indicate that respondent’s integrity management program may be inadequate,” the order states.

Before Enbridge can resume using the pipeline to transport oil, it must submit a written plan for U.S. government approval. The company has also been ordered to conduct testing on the burst segment, reduce operating pressure in the pipeline by 20 per cent, and come up with a plan for long-term monitoring of the pipe, among other conditions.

In a statement Tuesday, the company said that “it is not unusual” for the U.S. government to issue these kinds of orders, and that it has already begun work toward satisfying several of the conditions.

Northern Gateway concerns

Enbridge, which operates one of the world’s largest pipeline networks for the transmission of oil and gas, has suffered hundreds of leaks over the last decade. A 2010 rupture in Michigan spilled more than three million litres of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River, prompting $3.7 million in fines, $800 million in cleanup costs, and a strong rebuke from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Such problems undergird critics’ opposition to the company’s plan to build the so-called Northern Gateway system of pipelines across northern B.C., which would ship crude from the Alberta oilsands to ports on the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, in a fresh volley of attacks, former Canadian environment minister David Anderson said Enbridge is “the last company in North America” that should be allowed to do it because the corporation has a “cowboy culture” and pays little attention to environmental safety procedures. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. New Democratic Party have also voiced opposition to the Northern Gateway project.

Oil in Eden: The Battle to Protect Canada’s Pacific Coast

It’s one of the last bastions of Canadian wilderness: the Great Bear Rainforest, on BC’s north and central Pacific coast. Home to humpback whales, wild salmon, wolves, grizzlies, and the legendary spirit bear – this spectacular place is now threatened by a proposal from Enbridge to bring an oil pipeline and supertankers to this fragile and rugged coast. The plan is to pump over half a million barrels a day of unrefined bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands over the Rockies, through the heartland of BC – crossing a thousand rivers and streams in the process – to the Port of Kitimat, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. From there, supertankers would ply the rough and dangerous waters of the BC coast en route to Asia and the United States. Dubbed the Northern Gateway Pipeline, the project is of concern for three main reasons: 1. It would facilitate the expansion of the Tar Sands, hooking emerging Asian economies on the world’s dirtiest oil; 2. the risks from the pipeline itself; 3. the danger of introducing oil supertankers for the first time to this part of the BC coast. Source

Alberta Oil Sands a Pollution Nightmare

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