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Alarms Ignored; Spill Draws $3.7M Fine

Monday, July 9, 2012

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Federal regulators have proposed a record $3.7 million fine and 24 actions against pipeline operator Enbridge Energy for a corrosion-related rupture that spilled more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil in July 2010.

 Enbridge Energy

 Enbridge Energy

A skimmer and absorbent boom were used in the initial stages of clean-up in August 2010.

Despite alarms that began seconds after the failure, the company did not respond for about 17 hours, pumping thousands of extra barrels into the Kalamazoo River, authorities said.

"We will hold pipeline operators accountable if they do not follow proper safety procedures to protect the environment and local communities," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

An investigation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found multiple violations of  hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations related to integrity management, failure to follow operations and maintenance procedures, and reporting and operator qualification requirements

PHMSA issued its notice and proposed civil penalty to Enbridge on July 2 in a Notice of Probable Violation (NOPV).

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the spill and will meet Tuesday (July 10) to determine a probable cause and consider safety recommendations.

Corrosion Anomalies

The pipeline failed despite a series of In-Line Inspections (ILl) that Enbridge performed on the 30-inch-diameter segment as part of its Integrity Management Program (IMP), said the NOPV.
“Multiple corrosion and crack-like anomalies on the pipe joint that failed on July 25, 2010, had been reported from the previous ILl runs, but Enbridge did not conduct any field examination of the reported anomalies prior to [the] Accident,” the Notice said.

Crack detection ILl was even being performed on the line on the day that it ruptured, and the tool actually remained in place until the line was restarted two months later, PHMSA said.

Nevertheless, according to the notice, “Enbridge could not demonstrate that the company attempted or scheduled any remediation of the corrosion or crack anomalies that were identified by the assessments.”
Alarms Ignored

Enbridge's Line 6B ruptured just before 6 p.m. EDT on July 25, 2010, about 0.6 mile downstream from the company’s Marshall pumping station, while the Control Center (CCO) in Edmonton, Alberta, was in the process of executing a scheduled 10-hour shutdown on the line.



National Transportation Safety Board photos show the six-foot, five-inch rupture of the Enbridge Energy pipeline segment. Although alarms sounded within seconds of the rupture, the company did not respond for about 17 hours, regulators said.

The rupture, more than six feet long, set off “multiple alarms and indications of abnormal operations” on the line, but the company did not respond with any suspected-leak or emergency procedures, PHMSA said.

Area residents began calling 911 to report odors shortly after 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, after a shift change, Enbridge tried to restart the line about 4 a.m. Again, the action triggered multiple alarms and indicators of a problem, but the company continued to pump oil into the line—10,460 additional barrels, Enbridge later reported.

The line was shut down an hour later, but a second restart was attempted at 7:20 a.m. That effort continued for 31 minutes—pumping in an additional 5,831 barrels of crude—despite more alarms and indicators.

Leak ‘Openly Discussed’

“By this time, the prospects of a suspected leak had been openly discussed by various CCO personnel, yet the Enbridge procedures for a suspected leak were not executed,” PHMSA reported.

A second shift change then occurred, during which staff and managers discussed the two restart attempts but took no action to address a spill, the agency said.

Finally, at 11:18 a.m., about 17 hours after the failure, the CCO received an emergency call from an employee of a local gas company, reporting oil in a creek near Marshall, MI. About 25 minutes later, Enbridge confirmed the spill, contacted the CCO, and began its response.

Miles of Contamination

The spill fouled about 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup took nearly two years, with the final section of the river reopening only June 21, 2012.

According to clean-up figures posted July 2 by the Environmental Protection Agency:

• 1,148,230 gallons of oil have been collected;

• 17.1 million gallons of oil and water were collected and disposed of; and

• 187,221 cubic yards of soil and debris were disposed of.


According to the Notice of Probable Violation, Enbridge failed to:

• Evaluate and address anomalous conditions on the line. A vendor integrity assessment reported anomalies on Oct. 13, 2007, but not until July 2009 did Enbridge implement pressure restrictions. And the company did not submit a Long Term Pressure Reduction Notification to PHMSA for a year after that.

• Conduct an adequate risk analysis.  The company’s analysis determined that instrumentation would identify a rupture of that magnitude within five minutes, and that remotely operated valves on either side of the rupture would be closed within three minutes after that.

• Consider the results of corrosion and cracking assessments, integrate those findings into its operation, and correct unsafe conditions.

• Follow established procedures for responding to, investigating, and correcting the cause of abnormal pressure. PHMSA found that the first alarm began within “a few seconds” of the original failure and continued through six entire cycles at a Severity Level 6 (Severe).

• Follow emergency procedures, notify police, or take steps to minimize the release.

• Fully report required accident information as soon as possible after discovery and to submit supplemental reports within 30 days. Enbridge submitted the first report on Aug. 25, then submitted supplemental reports on Dec. 20, Feb. 22, and March 6.

Moreover, PHMSA reported, “The Supplemental Reports submitted to date contain inaccurate information. The correct information has been known by the operator for some time.”

Witnesses also told investigators that for about two hours on the evening of the spill, the line was being overseen by an “un-qualified pipeline controller” who was supposed to be supervised by a qualified controller. A qualified controller was “seated adjacent” to the trainee but “was performing other tasks, and not directing and observing line operations,” the NOPV said.

Company Response

In a statement, Stephen J. Wuori, Enbridge President, Liquids Pipelines, said the company was reviewing the NOPV.

“Enbridge appreciates the hard work and due diligence that PHMSA has put into this investigation,” said Wuori. “Safety has always been core to our operations.”

Wuori said Enbridge had “completed a detailed internal investigation of this incident in the fall of 2010 and has made numerous enhancements to the processes and procedures in our control center” since the accident.

“Incident prevention, detection and response have also been enhanced,” he said. “We will carefully examine the NOPV to determine whether any further adjustments are appropriate.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Corrosion; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Performance testing; Pipelines; Site/field testing

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