Officials: Broken section of Mich. oil pipeline being removed, to be examined for spill cause

By John Flesher, AP
Friday, August 6, 2010

Removal of ruptured of Mich. oil pipeline begins

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Enbridge Inc. executives said Friday they had no timetable for resuming the flow of oil through a damaged pipeline that failed last week and poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into a southern Michigan river.

The Canadian company was removing a roughly 100-foot damaged section of the 30-inch line in a marshy area of Calhoun County. Federal officials planned an initial inspection at the site once the job was completed.

Afterward, a segment containing the rupture will be shipped to a National Transportation Safety Board laboratory in Washington, D.C., where experts will investigate what caused the leak.

Enbridge reported the spill July 26. The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 1 million gallons spewed into the Kalamazoo River and tributaries, while the company estimates the total at 820,000 gallons.

The line carried about 8 million gallons daily from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. A replacement section could be installed as soon as this weekend, said Steve Wuori, an executive vice president of the company based in Calgary, Alberta.

Enbridge will submit a plan for resuming the flow but has not set a date, CEO Patrick Daniel said.

“Of course, the line will not be restarted without approval of the regulators,” he said in a telephone news conference.

U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, a Battle Creek Democrat whose district includes the spill area, said Friday that conditions set by federal officials were inadequate.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — part of the Department of Transportation — has ordered Enbridge to develop a strategy for evaluating the pipeline’s integrity and fixing defects.

The agency said last week the company previously had reported 250 weaknesses but had repaired only 35 and was seeking an additional 2½ years to finish the others.

Schauer said all those problems should be solved before the pipeline is put back in service and that Enbridge should analyze the entire line, not just the damaged part. Local residents should be able to see the restart plan ahead of time and a public meeting should be held, he said.

“Although the recent rupture is under investigation, given the documented history of this line, I have no confidence that your compliance with the (government order) would prove sufficient to protect the public from another serious failure in the line,” Schauer said in a letter to Daniel.

Daniel said Enbridge would schedule a community meeting if regulators say it’s needed.

Once the oil starts moving again, the pressure will be lower than normal until investigators determines what caused the break, he said.

Enbridge has not calculated its financial losses, he said.

Costs to EPA and its contractors of dealing with the spill have averaged more than $400,000 per day, regional administrator Susan Hedman said.

More than 800 cubic yards of highly contaminated soil have been scraped up within the 5-acre area closest to the rupture, said Mark Durno, EPA’s deputy incident commander. About 2.8 million gallons of oily water have been drawn from the river and creeks, he said.

Schauer, a member of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said the panel had scheduled a hearing on the spill for Sept. 15.

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