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Feds Block Pipeline Restart after Spill

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

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Enbridge Energy will not be allowed to reopen a Wisconsin pipeline that ruptured last week until the company completes an acceptable restart plan for the entire 467-mile segment, federal regulators have announced.

In a corrective action order issued Monday (July 30), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) prohibited Enbridge from resuming operations on Pipeline 14 in Adams County.

 Crews from Enbridge Energy work to repair a Wisconsin pipeline that ruptured July 27.
Enbridge Energy crews repair a Wisconsin pipeline that ruptured July 27. The spill (right) spread to a field.

The 24-inch pipe ruptured about 2:45 p.m. CDT Friday (July 27), releasing about 1,200 barrels of crude oil onto a field “mostly on the pipeline right-of-way,” the company said in a statement.

The line was installed in 1998 and has been inspected twice in the last five years, Enbridge said.

$3.7M Fine

The new rupture came just weeks after PHMSA slapped Enbridge with a record $3.7 million fine and Notice of Probable Violation for a corrosion-related rupture that dumped more than 840,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010.

In that case, PHMSA’s investigation found that the company’s Control Center ignored alarms about the spill for 17 hours—over two shift changes—before responding and shutting down the flow. It was the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Regulators 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. The Notice ordered Enbridge to undertake 24 corrective actions.

New Rupture

Enbridge emphasized after the new spill that it had not delayed this time. A company statement said Control Center operators shut down and isolated the line immediately after detecting a pressure drop. “Emergency crews were promptly deployed to the site,” Enbridge said.

Still, the cause of the break remains under investigation, and regulators are not ready to allow the pipeline back on line, saying the rupture was “hazardous to life, property and the environment.”

In addition to submitting a restart plan, PHMSA’s order requires Enbridge to:

• Conduct mechanical and metallurgical testing and failure analysis of the failed pipe;

• Evaluate previous inline inspection results;

• Submit an integrity verification and remedial work plan; and

• Retain an independent evaluator to investigate the company’s integrity management plan.

‘Absolutely Unacceptable’

“Pipelines operate safely across the country every single day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “That’s why accidents, like the one in Wisconsin, are absolutely unacceptable.”

 NTSB photos show a six-and-a-half-foot rupture in an Enbridge Energy pipeline in July 2010.


An Enbridge Energy pipeline sustained a six-and-a-half-foot rupture in July 2010, but operators ignored spill alarms for 17 hours. This time, Enbridge said, it shut down the leaking line immediately.

LaHood said he would “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.”

Pipeline regulators have stepped up their oversight and enforcement efforts since April 2011, when LaHood issued a Call to Action on pipeline safety.

PHMSA closed a record number of enforcement cases in 2011, has asked operators to replace and rehabilitate aging pipelines, is collecting more data about pipelines, and is increasing efforts to educate the public about staying safe around pipelines.

Enbridge: Repairs Underway

In a statement this week, Enbridge said the corrective order was “not unusual.”

The company added: “PHMSA is onsite and overseeing the incident investigation, and monitoring our response and repair work. We expect the repairs to Line 14 to be completed within the next day, and we are preparing the restart plan to present to PHMSA. Several of the items listed in the Order are well underway.

“The safety of people who live and work near our pipelines and the environment is Enbridge’s top priority, and we are working closely with PHMSA to ensure that the pipeline is safely restarted.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines

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