Workers replace damaged portion of oil pipeline outside Chicago

By Karen Hawkins, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Damaged portion of Illinois oil pipeline replaced

CHICAGO — A 12-foot section of a damaged pipeline that sent oil bubbling to the surface outside Chicago was being replaced Tuesday, and a federal official said crews hoped to fill in the excavation site this week.

A water main beneath the pipeline was scheduled to be repaired Wednesday, said Sam Borries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator. And if all goes well, workers could begin repairing the street in Romeoville by the end of the week, he said.

But the spill and resulting pipeline shutdown have meant a spike in regional gas prices, and federal officials say it could take weeks to clean up contamination.

A 2-inch diameter hole was been found in the bottom of the pipe directly above the water main, and two holes were found in the top of the water main, but the cause of the oil leak won’t be known until the National Transportation Safety Board tests the damaged pipe, investigator Matthew Nicholson said. The damaged section should arrive in Washington by Thursday, he said.

“We’ve got the primary piece of evidence,” he said.

The problem was discovered Thursday in Romeoville by local water department workers responding to a complaint from a business owner about the water line, Nicholson said.

The oil pipeline is the third owned by Canada-based Enbridge Inc. to be put out of commission this summer. Enbridge also owns a pipeline from Indiana to Ontario that in July spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a southern Michigan waterway, where cleanup is ongoing.

On Tuesday, the company restarted a 91-mile pipeline that runs from Ontario, Canada, to New York that was shut down a day earlier to investigate a possible low-level leak near Buffalo, N.Y. Enbridge said tests found no leak but that the site would be monitored.

In Illinois, more than 400 people are working on site around the clock, up from about 200 workers during the weekend. The majority of new workers were brought in by Enbridge, Borries said.

The 34-inch oil pipeline, which runs 465 miles from Superior, Wis., to Griffith, Ind., is 5 feet underground.

Borries said the total volume of the spill was not yet known. By late Sunday, Enbridge had captured about 12,100 barrels of an oil and water mixture, about half of which was oil.

Borries said the oil that was pushed to the surface reached a retention pond and Romeoville’s wastewater treatment plant. Enbridge will excavate contaminated soil and test groundwater, he said.

Gina Jordan, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based Enbridge, said Tuesday that it’s too soon to know when the pipeline could begin moving oil again. That determination will be made by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. A call to the agency’s Midwest office was not returned Tuesday.

The company has said it continues to treat the spill near Marshall, Mich., where at least 800,000 gallons of oil leaked into a waterway in July, “as a top priority.” The company does not know when that pipeline will be restarted. A congressional hearing on that spill is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Illinois spill has pushed wholesale and retail gasoline prices higher, said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

He said wholesale gas prices in the Midwest were about 30 cents per gallon higher than the West Coast and 15 to 20 cents per gallon higher than the East Coast.

Kloza said motorists in Warren, Ind., have been stung with the biggest retail price hikes. Pump prices there have soared 34.7 cents per gallon since Sept. 1. Boyd, Ky., saw an increase of 34.3 cents per gallon in the same time, and Hillsdale, Mich. saw prices jump 32.4 cents per gallon.

Associated Press writers Tammy Webber in Chicago, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., and Chris Kahn in New York contributed to this report.

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