US regulator demands Enbridge meet safety demands before restarting Wisconsin pipeline

Enbridge employees working on a piece of its ruptured pipeline in Wisconsin. Photo credit: Enbridge Inc.
A US regulatory body ordered Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. to meet an extensive list of safety requirements before resuming oil transmission in a Wisconsin pipeline which leaked last Friday.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a "corrective action order" to Enbridge on Monday, which mandates the company to take "immediate corrective action" before restarting its pipeline which could risk "life, property and the environment."
Enbridge Inc. is Canada's largest exporter of crude oil, and operates one of the largest oil and gas pipeline networks in the world. 

The pipeline, which transports Canadian crude oil to refineries in the Chicago area, leaked in a rural farm area of Wisconsin. It spilled about 1,200 barrels (190,000 litres), forcing two home evacuations and affected a drinking-water source four kilometres away.

"Accidents like the one in Wisconsin are absolutely unacceptable," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said stated on 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 order also noted that the Line 14 pipeline section had problems before, such as another leak in 2007 which spilled 1,500 barrels of oil in Atwood, Wisconsin.

The report stated that Enbridge found "multiple crack anomalies" in the piping since that leak, and said the company's integrity management system may be "inadaquate."

The US regulatory agency gave Enbridge a long list of conditions it must submit to before restarting the pipeline, including a written plan subject to approval, testing on the ruptured pipeline, a 20 per cent reduction in operating pressure on the ruptured pipeline, and a long term plan for monitoring the pipeline among others.

Growing list of pipeline mishaps for Enbridge in Michigan, Alberta and BC

This latest slam from the PHMSA is not good news for Enbridge, which came under fierce criticism from U.S. regulators and North American news media about its mishandling of a 20,000 barrel oil spill in 2010 in Kalamazoo River, Michigan in July. It also comes after an Enbridge pipeline spilled an estimated 230,000 litres into a man-made lake near Elk Point, Alberta in June.

The National Transportation Safety Board said they found a complete breakdown of safety procedure around the spill in Michigan. The pipeline rupture and oil leak was not detected for 17 hours, and the NTSB said Enbridge employees acted like “Keystone Kops," a reference to incompetent fictional policemen featured in early 20th century silent film comedies. In its defence, Enbridge said that its employees tried to do the "right thing."

This is also bad news for Enbridge's ambitions to build the Northern Gateway, a 1,177 km dual pipeline transporting heavy oil from Edmonton, AB to Kitimat, BC. If built, it would carry 525,000 barrels of heavy oil per day.

The BC government demanded last week that the company meet five "minimum requirements" which included a 'fair share' of royalties from Alberta for taking on the risk of environmental and economic damage in the case of an oil leak.

The head of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said on Monday that he unequivocally opposes the pipeline due what he believes to be the unacceptable environmental, cultural, and economic damage of a major oil pipeline and a potential oil spill in BC.

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