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Report Slams Enbridge's Negligence in Tar Sands Spill

"Learning about Enbridge's poor handling of the rupture, you can't help but think of the Keystone Kops."

- Common Dreams staff

Oil company Enbridge Inc. ignored warning signs for five years in its tar sands carrying pipeline that resulted the 2010 oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, according to results of a damning investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released Tuesday.

The July 2010 oil spill was the most expensive onshore cleanup at $800 million, and continues to be cleaned by the EPA, which says it has collected 1,148,230 gallons in its cleanup. 

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman's statements on the spill and cleanup efforts slam Enbridge for negligence before and during the spill:

"For more than 17 hours and over three shifts, the people controlling the pipeline did not respond to the alarms, pressure differentials or even follow one of their own safety procedures established following another catastrophic release in 1991 in Grand Rapids.

"The people of Marshall would finish their dinners, get ready for the week ahead and go to bed. As they slept, and even when they got up on Monday morning, instead of stopping the flow, Enbridge staff twice pumped more oil -- about 81 percent of the total release -- into the ruptured pipeline.

"It wasn't until late Monday morning -- 17 hours and 19 minutes after the rupture -- that a worker from a local gas utility found the spill and notified the Enbridge control center. Then, and only then, did the Enbridge staff begin their response and start closing remote valves upstream and downstream of the rupture.

"Learning about Enbridge's poor handling of the rupture, you can't help but think of the Keystone Kops.

"Why didn't they recognize what was happening? What took so long?"

Hersman also damned the lack of appropriate regulation:

"Delegating too much authority to the regulated to assess their own system risks and correct them is tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse. Regulators need regulations and practices with teeth - and the resources to enable them to take corrective action before a spill. Not just after."

Writing on NRDC's Switchboard blog, Anthony Smith slams not just Enbridge but the culture of lack of safety in the pipeline industry. "Perhaps of most concern is that the causes of the Kalamazoo tar sands spill point to a systemic lack of a culture of safety in the pipeline industry and a failure of safety oversight by regulators at PHMSA. NTSB’s findings highlight the urgency to proactively address the general failures in the nation’s pipeline safety system and to proactively address the risks of tar sands pipelines."

Hersman's comments also point to the systemic problem in the oil industry. "With more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline running through this country -- enough to circle the Earth one hundred times -- we have to ask, Are these companies representative of others?' If the answer is yes, we can expect to be back here again discussing the same issues with a different company. The only unknowns are when? Where? And, how much damage?"

Oil still on the Kalamazoo