Scathing Report Outlines Enbridge’s Failures in the Nation’s Largest and Most Expensive Onshore Tar Sands Spill
Report Reveals Parallel Spill Threats to Dallas-Fort Worth Water Supplies as Enbridge Prepares to Transport Toxic Canadian Tar Sands through Seaway Pipeline
AUSTIN – A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report slamming pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. for mishandling a 2010 Michigan tar sands spill should serve as a cautionary note to regulators assessing the company’s plans to transport tar sands oil through Texas, Public Citizen said today.
In the preliminary report, titled “Pipeline Rupture and Oil Spill Accident Caused by Organizational Failures and Weak Regulations,” the NTSB made scathing re¬marks regarding Enbridge’s response to a spill on the Kalamazoo River.
The Michigan spill occurred on July 25, 2010, from an aging, 41-year old pipeline that had been repurposed for tar sands crude. Despite the company’s highly touted computerized monitoring system, the spill continued for more than 17 hours until a local utility worker discovered the leaking crude and contacted Enbridge. The 80-inch pipeline rupture resulted in an estimated 880,000 to 1.1 million gallons of tar sands crude contaminating more than 35 miles of the Kalamazoo, forcing local residents to evacuate.
Enbridge and Enterprise Partners Inc., are now completing pumping stations to transport large volumes of dilbit or tar sands crude from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries through an aging, 36-year old pipeline near the Dallas-Fort Worth area called Seaway. The pipeline crosses upstream tributaries leading to Lake Lavon, Cedar Creek Reservoir and two segments of Richland Chambers Lake. All are major water supplies for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The integrity of the pipeline should be closely examined, and the state should ensure that the company’s emergency response plan is adequate, Public Citizen said.
According to the NTSB, cost estimates for cleaning up this two-year old Michigan spill by Enbridge total more than $800 million, making it the “largest and most expensive onshore spill in U.S. history.” On July 2, federal regulators proposed a $3.7 million civil penalty against Enbridge, which would be the largest fine the agency has imposed.
In the report, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said the Michigan spill illustrated a “complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge.” She noted that:
• Enbridge had known the line was cracked and corroded since 2005 but failed for more than five years to take any corrective measures to ensure pipeline integrity prior to the 2010 spill.
• “Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts, they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures.”
• “Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment.”
“Texas officials should take note: Canadian tar sands are pipelines of poison,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “This material contains high levels of toxic benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and heavy metals. The day after the Michigan spill, the benzene levels were off the charts at levels thousands of times higher than federal safety limits. More than 300 individuals suffered health effects related to the spill, and many still feel sick today. Only recently, after two years of clean up, have tributaries of the Kalamazoo started to reopen.
“The Canadian tar sands crude that Enbridge will be transporting near or through Dallas-Fort Worth water supplies is not unlike the crude transported in Michigan — it’s highly acidic, corrosive and toxic,” Smith said. “When this unique type of crude hits water, the lighter elements of benzene and hydrogen sulfide go airborne, and the heavier crude components sink like a stone. It’s like paving a creek or waterway. It’s very difficult to clean up.”
Added Rita Beving, a Dallas resident and tar sands consultant for several cities fighting TransCanada’s new pipeline, “The Enbridge spill is a cautionary tale which Dallas-Fort Worth officials and water suppliers need to take seriously. We cannot afford to have Dallas residents evacuated or our region’s water supplies rendered unusable.
“We need our local officials and state legislators to demand a more thorough review of this pipeline’s integrity before Canadian dilbit is allowed to be transported through it. Officials need to assess the Seaway’s emergency response plan to deem whether it is adequate in case a spill occurs,” added Beving. “Finally, Enbridge plans to pair the pipeline with a parallel segment, and there should be an environmental assessment of the impacts of an additional pipeline along this route.”
The Michigan spill, coupled with the NTSB report, are just the latest accounts in a long line of disturbing reports in Enbridge’s failure to act as a responsible pipeline operator.
Enbridge has a long history of violations, including the following in less than a five-year span:
• 2006: Enbridge fined for failure to properly monitor internal corrosion and perform maintenance procedures in Houma, La.
• 2007: Two Enbridge employees were killed when repairs on the same Lakehead Line B system in Minnesota caused leaking crude to ignite.
• 2009: Enbridge fined for failure to inspect in-service breakout tanks.
• 2010: U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Haz¬ardous Material Safety Administration (PHSMA) fines Enbridge $2.4 million in civil penalties after the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan
“This damning NTSB report should be a wakeup call that the Michigan story could be duplicated with the same company in our backyard with a pipeline almost the same age,” Beving added. “Moreover, the federal agency that investigated this spill has acknowledged that there are not adequate safeguards in place to protect water or the public should another such tar sands spill occur.”
As a result of the investigation, the NTSB found that Enbridge had not put in place adequate safety measures and deemed federal standards insufficient to protect the public and environment. The agency issued more than 17 safety recommendations to PHSMA, which oversees pipeline standards, as well as to Enbridge Incorpo¬rated, the American Petroleum Institute, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Emer¬gency Number Association.
The recommendations call for an audit of PHMSA’s onshore pipeline facility response plan and an allocation of adequate resources to ensure such a response plan is sufficient. Recommendations also called for improved inspections, assessment and reporting of pipeline problems by industry; better notification and corrective proce¬dures; extended qualification requirements and better pipeline control staff training; and improved notification and enhanced response training for spill emergency responders.
“This accident is a wake-up call to industry, the regulator and the public. Enbridge knew for years that this section of pipeline was vulnerable yet they didn’t act on that information,” said the NTSB’s Hersman. “Likewise, for the regulator to delegate too much authority to the regulated to assess their own system risks and correct them is tantamount to the fox guarding the hen house. Regulators need regulations and practices with teeth, and the resources to enable them to take corrective action before a spill. Not just after.”
The NTSB report summary, including the probable cause, findings and list of the safety recommendations, is available at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/par1201.pdf . The NTSB’s full report will be available on its website in the next several weeks.
A map of the Seaway Pipeline route is available at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/web_seawayprojectmap_12-28-11.pdf.