Pipeline in Michigan oil spill had been cited for corrosion

Federal regulators had issued safety warnings about the condition of the pipeline in the Michigan oil spill that leaked nearly 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River this week.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor
posted July 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm EDT

Chicago — The Canadian company responsible for the pipeline that spilled almost 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan was warned seven months ago that it needed to address corrosion on the pipeline.

While it’s unclear whether corrosion led to the spill, Enbridge Energy Partners LP of Calgary was told earlier this year that its pipeline no longer met federal standards.

Enbridge’s pipeline ruptured Monday near Marshall, Mich., sending oil as far as 35 miles down the Kalamazoo River toward Lake Michigan. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm declared a state of emergency and ordered voluntary evacuations for 61 homes. People living near the contaminated area were instructed to stop using well water for drinking and cooking.

The pipeline was used to move heavy and medium crude oil from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. The US portion stretches 286 miles, crossing several state and local highways. In Michigan, the spillage area includes residential areas, farmland, and wetlands.

How much effort the company put into addressing problems of corrosion remains a question. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency operating under the US Department of Transportation, the pipe was manufactured in 1969 and was the subject of a dozen federal citations and warnings for safety violations since 2002. It was last assessed for corrosion in June 2009.

In January 2010 the company was told the pipeline did not comply with federal regulations. Enbridge officials told the Associated Press Thursday that they were in the process of complying with the request this year, up to the date of the spill.

According to agency documents, Enbridge announced a remediation plan on July 15, six days before the rupture. The company plans to replace the corroded section of pipe. The company added it would need more time to put that plan into action.

While the leak has stopped, assessing the oil’s damage to the water and air quality continues.

“We don’t feel there will be any pollution to the water supply right now,” said Calhoun County Health Officer Jim Rutherford. “That’s not to say we’ll never see pollution to the water supply, but it may take six months to a year to occur.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency has requested $2 million from the US Coast Guard to fund the recovery operation and has promised that it will seek full reimbursement from Enbridge once it is finished.

Environmental groups hope the spill pressures federal regulators to scrutinize the condition of local pipelines, especially in the Midwest where the oil industry has a lower profile.

“When people think about the Midwest they don’t think about oil spills, but they should,” says Andrew Wetzler, director of land and wildlife programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is a growing network of pipelines just like this one transporting extraordinarily dirty pollutants as they snake their way through multiple states.”

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