By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – Regulators granted permission Thursday for Enbridge Inc. to finish replacing the underground pipeline that ruptured and spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a southwestern Michigan river.
The state Public Service Commission approved the last of three permits the company needs to construct the Michigan portion of the $1.6 billion project. The Canadian company plans to replace the entire 286-mile-long pipeline, which runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.
In a news release, the commission said the line “will serve a public need, is designed and routed in a reasonable manner, and meets or exceeds current safety and engineering standards.”
The project includes about 110 miles of pipeline 36 inches in diameter and an additional 50 miles of pipeline 30 inches in diameter. It will extend through 10 Michigan counties: Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson, Ingham, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair. Additionally, the commission authorized Enbridge to install new facilities at stations along the route.
The company, based in Calgary, Alberta, also is seeking permits to replace a 60-mile section of the line in northern Indiana. Company officials did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Enbridge says the line replacement is part of plan to boost the flow of oil to refineries in the eastern U.S. and Canada through a network that runs beneath portions of Michigan and other Great Lakes states. When completed, the pipeline’s capacity will be 500,000 barrels per day, more than double the present daily maximum of 230,000 barrels, the company says.
Some parts have been replaced since the July 2010 leak into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary called Talmadge Creek near Marshall, about 70 miles southeast of Grand Rapids, which fouled more than 35 miles of waterways and wetlands. About 320 people reported symptoms from crude oil exposure. The cleanup is in its final stages.
Federal agencies ordered Enbridge to pay a $3.7 million penalty and said it had failed to deal adequately with structural problems detected years earlier.
Enbridge says after the new is installed, existing segments will be purged and filled with an inert gas as required under federal regulations.
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