Federal regulators raised concerns as early as 2002 about the safety standards, operations and recordkeeping of a company whose ruptured pipeline spilled up to 1 million gallons of oil in southern Michigan, government documents show.
The Detroit Free Press reported Saturday that a report the newspaper obtained reveals that regulators had over the years raised questions about Enbridge Energy Partners’ corrosion monitoring and its delayed reporting of spills.
In one case, regulators warned the Canadian company about its apparent failure to repair parts of the vast network of pipelines it owns.
A segment of one of those pipelines, one that runs between Griffith, Ind., and Sarnia, Ontario, failed July 26, sending up to 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and other southern Michigan waterways.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration report was obtained by the Free Press on Friday, just days after Enbridge was ordered to pay a $2.4 million fine for a spill that killed two workers in Minnesota. It details dozens of enforcement actions, warning letters and inspections involving the firm.
Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan defended the company’s record, specifically on the issue of delayed reporting of a spill. She said that if the federal agency is trying to suggest that the company has a bad safety record, “we don’t think that’s a fair representation of where we are.”
The PHMSA report shows that beginning in 2002, federal regulators had many concerns about Enbridge’s Lakehead System, a 1,900-mile-long pipeline delivering crude oil across the Midwest.
In a handful of warning letters and notices that year, agency officials began raising questions about Enbridge operations, saying there were problems with maintenance procedures and recordkeeping. There also was evidence that a program for identifying areas where a pipeline break could be catastrophic was not performing well, the report shows.
The company addressed or fixed many, if not most, of the concerns, the report indicates.
But issues concerning Enbridge and its operations continued to cause concern, right up to a February 2010 meeting in Washington, where PHMSA spokeswoman Julia Piscitelli said the agency aired “concerns about the safety and performance of the entire Lakehead pipeline system.”
Federal regulators provided the Free Press with details Friday of some of the 94 citations issued since 2002 involving Enbridge’s Lakehead system.
Among them are:
- Allegations raised in 2002 questioning Enbridge’s procedures for identifying segments of its pipeline that run through so-called high consequence areas. In those areas pipeline companies are held to higher standards of maintaining their lines for fear a spill could impact an urban area or an environmentally sensitive region.
- A March 2004 warning letter that said Enbridge had reported an unspecified leak 12 days after the company found the leak. After July’s leak, questions also were raised as to whether the company had detected it and reported it quickly enough.
While the timeline provided Friday by PHMSA does not go into great detail about many of the citations, it does back up the agency’s earlier contention that it had been raising questions about the Lakehead system for some time.
A cause for the spill near Marshall, Mich., has not yet been determined, but inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board are testing the section of pipe that ruptured.
Several of the issues raised by the PHMSA reports could be key as the investigation into the spill near Marshall continues and congressional hearings are expected to begin soon.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)