HOW THE #”KEYSTONE KOPS” TURNED THE 2010 TAR SANDS OIL SPILL INTO A DISASTER

 Six-and-a-half foot tear in Enbridge’s Keystone Pipeline, Line 6B, at Talmadge Creek, a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River   Photo Credit NTSB

Terri Larson, spokeswoman for Enbridge’s Keystone Pipeline, said 843,444 gallons of heavy crude seeped from the split pipeline at Talmadge Creek.

To date, the EPA has cleaned up about 1,150,000 gallons of tar sands heavy crude oil out of two miles of the creek and 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River.  Still, Larson insists Enbridge stands by their number as being accurate.


Cleanup on Talmadge Creek tributary to Kalamazoo River  
Photo credit EPA

No offense to the spokeswoman, but Enbridge hasn’t exactly shown themselves to be slaves to truth.

Nor have they been slaves to their own internal best practices and safety procedures, as evidenced by their actions since they first became aware of a problem in Line 6B of their Keystone Pipeline about 6 PM on July 25, 2010.

Instead of implementing Enbridge’s procedures for dealing with emergencies and suspected leaks, operators at Enbridge’s control centre in Edmonton, Alberta left the line idle.

Around 4 AM on July 26, 2010, a new crew restarted Line 6B and quickly received alarms and messages to the effect that pressure at the Marshall, MI pumping station wasn’t rising as expected–there was a significant imbalance between the volume of oil pumped into the line and the volume it was delivering.

Despite the warning messages, engineers took none of the prescribed emergency actions and kept the oil flowing for another hour, thereby sending more than 1,660,000 litres of heavy crude into Line 6B.

After evaluating the readings and warnings, they again started the line.

Despite receiving more alarms, they didn’t shut down Line 6B until they’d injected another 920,000 additional litres into the line.

David Barrett, director of the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), says, “By this time the prospects of a suspected leak had been openly discussed by various . . . personnel, yet the Enbridge procedures for a suspected leak were not executed.”

In a July 20, 2012, press release, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah A P Hersman had this to say:

“(Our) investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge.  Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment.

“Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts, they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures.”

The NTSB said Enbridge had restarted the pipeline twice in that 17-hour period, pumping through oil that accounted for 81% of the total spill.

Oil sands tarred Great Blue Heron    Photo credit Michigan DNR

When the EPA surveyed the situation, they believed they’d have the spill cleaned up in a couple of months.

Two years later, they’re still trying to clean up the mess.  And for one stricken area of the Kalamazoo River, it may take months, even years, to clean up completely.

What the EPA didn’t know was that Line 6B carried bitumen, the dirtiest and stickiest of crude oils—because Federal regulations don’t require pipeline operators to disclose that information, and Enbridge officials didn’t feel like playing nice until they were forced to.

How dirty and sticky is the bitumen?

Well, they don’t call it tar sands oil for nothin’.

It’s about the consistency of peanut butter and can’t flow from a well into pipelines.

The tarry resin is either steamed or strip-mined from sandy soil.  Then it’s thinned with large quantities of liquid chemicals so it’ll move through pipelines.

The diluting agents usually include benzene, a known carcinogen.

At this point, the solution is called diluted bitumen, or dilbit.

The National Resources Council and other environmental groups say dilbit is likely to corrode and weaken pipes because it is so much more acidic and abrasive than conventional oil.

Enbridge and other companies dispute the hypothesis, saying dilbit is no different from conventional crude.

Mark Durno, an EPA deputy incident commander said, “Submerged oil is what makes this thing more unique than even the Gulf of Mexico situation.  Yes, that was huge—but they knew the beast they were dealing with.  This experience was brand new for us.

“It would have been brand new for anyone in the United States.”

In fact, the EPA had to invent ways to deal with cleaning up the spill that didn’t destroy the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River ecosystems.

Jim Rutherford, public health officer for Michigan’s Calhoun County, said “(I) had no idea what I was driving into” the day 6B ruptured and he drove into Michigan’s Calhoun County.

“We just weren’t ready for anything of this magnitude.  We didn’t even know the nature of the type of crude.”

By the way—this crude comes from the same tar sands that TransCanada  wants to export down through the gargantuan new Keystone XL Pipeline it wants to build.

And TransCanada’s proposed some of the same flawed safety methodologies Enbridge endorses.

Tomorrow:  Regulators of US PHMSA propose $3,700,000 civil penalty against Enbridge in probable violation of 24 regulations in connection with Michigan tar sands oil spill.

Sources:  Huffington Post, July 3 and 5, 2012           New York Times, July 2, 2012   Transcript of PRI’s Living on Earth, July 6, 2012    Bloomberg News, July 24, 2012

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