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Feds: Enbridge Energy to pay $177M more after Midwest oil spills

Enbridge Energy’s bill continues to grow for the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier in July a proposed settlement with Enbridge and related companies.

Enbridge must spend at least $110 million on a series of measures to prevent spills and improve operations in the Great Lakes region.

The company also must pay civil penalties — $62 million for Clean Water Act violations, including $61 million for discharging at least 20,082 barrels of oil in Marshall, Michigan, and $1 million for discharging at least 6,427 barrels of oil in Romeoville, Illinois.

The settlement includes an “extensive set of specific requirements to prevent spills and enhance leak detection capabilities” throughout Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline system — a network of 14 pipelines spanning nearly 2,000 miles across seven states, including Wisconsin. The system moves about 1.7 million barrels of oil each day.

Enbridge also must improve its spill preparedness and emergency response programs. as well as replace close to 300 miles of one of its pipelines.

“This settlement will make the delivery of our nation’s energy resources safer and more environmentally responsible,” assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said in a news release. “It requires Enbridge to take robust measures to improve the maintenance and monitoring of its Lakehead pipeline system, protecting lakes, rivers, land and communities across the upper Midwest, as well as pay a significant penalty.”

Already Enbridge has reimbursed the federal government for $57.8 million for cleanup costs from the Marshall spill and $650,000 for cleanup costs from the Romeoville spill.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles Jr., assigned to the Western District in Michigan, said his office was pleased with the deal.

“Prevention of future pipeline leaks and immediate detection and repair of problem areas are critical when protecting health and the environment,” he said.

The Marshall spill was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge discharged at least a million gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek near Marshall.

After 22 months of cleanup work, the Kalamazoo River reopened for recreational activities but environmental groups continue to question whether the cleanup was complete.


Spending $110 million

Under the proposed settlement, Enbridge must:

  • Implement an enhanced pipeline inspection and spill prevention program.
  • Implement enhanced measures to improve leak detection and control room operations.
  • Commit to additional leak detection and spill prevention requirements for a portion of Enbridge’s Line 5 that crosses the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan.
  • Create and maintain an integrated database for the Lakehead Pipeline System.
  • Enhance its emergency spill response preparedness programs by conducting four emergency spill response exercises to test and practice Enbridge’s response to a major inland oil spill.
  • Improve training and coordination with state and local emergency responders.
  • Hire an independent third-party to assist with review of implementation of the requirements in the settlement agreement.


The case against Enbridge

The government’s complaint alleges Enbridge owned or operated a 30-inch pipeline, known as Line 6B, that ruptured near Marshall on July 25, 2010.

The Line 6B rupture triggered numerous alarms in Enbridge’s control room, but Enbridge failed to recognize the ruptured pipeline until at least 17 hours later.

In the meantime, Enbridge restarted Line 6B twice on July 26, 2010, pumping additional oil into the ruptured pipeline and causing additional discharges of oil into the environment.

Ultimately, Line 6B discharged at least 20,082 barrels of crude oil, much of which entered Talmadge Creek and flowed into the Kalamazoo River, which flows to Lake Michigan.

Flooding caused by heavy rains pushed the discharged oil over the river’s banks into its flood plains and accelerated its migration more than 35 miles downstream.

Enbridge later replaced Line 6B, which originates in Griffith, Indian, crosses the lower peninsula of Michigan and ends in Sarnia, Canada, with a larger pipeline, also known as Line 6B.

The rupture and discharges were caused by stress corrosion cracking on the pipeline, control room misinterpretations and other problems and pervasive organization failures at Enbridge.

The government complaint also alleges that on Sept. 9, 2010, another Enbridge pipeline, known as Line 6A, discharged at least 6,427 barrels of oil which Romeoville, Illinois, much of which flowed through a drainage ditch into a retention pond in Romeoville.

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