by Gary Street
As a retired chemical engineer and a current board member of Freshwater Future I was concerned when I met one of my neighbors. The neighbor I met is Enbridge, and I met them outside of Burt Township Hall. Enbridge, a Canadian company, which has oil and gas pipelines throughout North America, has a shocking record of oil spills.
It’s not just my township and lake that I worry about. Enbridge has pipelines throughout Michigan, and throughout the Great Lakes watershed. Nearly any spill they have will find its way into nearby streams, lakes, and perhaps the Great Lakes.
As this is written, the Enbridge spill problems continue. In July 2012, Enbridge spilled 67,200 gallons of oil near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin.
The wake-up call for Michigan was the Enbridge spill that occurred on July 25, 2010, near Marshall. The pipeline suffered a 61/2- foot long and 5-inch wide rupture, and gushed oil for 17 hours and 19 minutes.
Enbridge and the EPA estimated the pipeline discharged between 840,000 and 900,000 gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek, which feeds into the Kalamazoo River, flowing from Battle Creek into Lake Michigan.
During the spill, three shifts of employees monitoring the pipeline from the command center in Edmonton, Alberta, received multiple warning alarms, but dismissed them as being caused by column separation, or bubbles of vapor in the pipeline, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation.
People in the area called 911 to report the smell of gas or oil, but the local emergency responders didn’t find the leak and were unaware of the pipeline in the area.
The oil spill was eventually discovered by a local utility worker, who reported it to Enbridge’s control center, which stopped the flow. The leak was caused by cracks forming on the pipe in an area where the waterproofing tape had pulled away and the pipe was corroding. The 41-year-old carbon steel pipe was inspected by an Enbridge contractor for rust in 2004 and cracks in 2005. Inspections in 2007 and 2009 identified 390 anomalies with the line. But the company had repaired only 61 when the spill occurred,.
The Detroit Free Press reported, “In 2005, Enbridge detected the very defect that led to this failure…Yet for five years, they did nothing to address the corrosion or cracking at the rupture site—and the problem festered.”
According to the NTSB, this incident was the largest oil spill in the Midwestern United States. Federal officials say cleanup costs have exceeded $800 million, while Enbridge was assessed a civil penalty of $3.7 million.
Yes, until alternative forms of energy are commercialized, we need oil. But it can— and must—be delivered safely, and without harm to the environment. Recently the National Wildlife Federation also voiced similar concerns in their report; Sunken Hazard: Aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac an ever present threat to the Great Lakes. Visit http://bit.ly/FWFlink to read the report.