NTSB: Neglect and Inaction Caused Huge Michigan Oil Spill

Whenever we live near an industrial area, we are at the mercy of those whose job it is to oversee and properly maintain the industry. Industrial “accidents” or cases of neglect and incompetence, can turn our lives upside down and, potentially, adversely affect our health. Such was the case in the 2010 oil spill caused by the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. in southwestern Michigan.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report about the spill, saying it was the result of multiple cracks in the pipeline and that the company did not recognize the ruptures. The report also said the massive oil spill was caused by a complete breakdown of company safety measures, while its employees performed like “Keystone Kops” trying to contain it.

The Reuters news service carried a story about the report.

According to the report, the ruptures of Enbridge’s pipeline spilled more than 20,000 barrels of heavy crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and a tributary creek in July 2010.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement, “Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment.” The NTSB said the main failure of the pipeline was due to multiple small “corrosion-fatigue cracks” that grew over time to create a breach in the pipe over 80 inches long. The rupture spilled crude unchecked for 17 hours.

Enbridge said in a statement it believed its personnel were trying to do the “right thing” at the time.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, said its probe uncovered two dozen regulation violations related to the leak on Enbridge’s Line 6B near the town of Marshall, about mid-way between Detroit and Lake Michigan. The U.S. pipeline regulator slapped a $3.7 million fine on Enbridge, the largest it has ever imposed.

The accident shut down the pipeline for more than two months and spawned a massive clean up that the company has estimated will cost more than $700 million. Following the Enbridge spill and other major pipeline accidents, the Transportation Department enhanced its oversight in 2011. Last December, Congress passed a pipeline safety bill that raised maximum fines and authorized an increase in the number of pipeline inspectors.

NTSB said their investigation found that Enbridge failed to accurately assess the integrity of the pipeline, including analyzing cracks that required repair.

“Following the first alarm, Enbridge controllers restarted Line 6B twice, pumping an additional 683,000 gallons of crude oil, or 81 percent of the total amount spilled, through the ruptured pipeline,” the agency said. The NTSB said there was a “culture of deviance” at Enbridge where personnel were not adhering to approved procedures and protocols.

“Enbridge knew for years that this section of the pipeline was vulnerable, yet they didn’t act on that information,” said Hersman.

The NTSB report recommended that:
— The U.S. Department of Transportation audit the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s onshore pipeline program, fix problems and provide more resources.

— The administration toughen regulations dealing with how companies monitor pipelines for cracking, including criteria for determining when lines must be excavated for visual inspections.

–The administration develop requirements for training pipeline control center staff.

–Enbridge improve its pipeline integrity policies, staff training and emergency response plans.

— Enbridge train local first responders about dealing with pipeline spills, including use of oil containment devices.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases and toxic tort matters for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Rolling Meadows, Flossmoor, Plainview, Inverness, Skokie, Lisle, Calumet City, Alsip, Harwood Heights, Naperville and Park Forest, Ill.

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