Worker covered in tar sands oil at Talmadge Creek  Photo credit EPA

So far, cleanup of the spill has cost almost three quarters of a billion dollars.

Regulators of the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed a $3,700,000 civil penalty against Enbridge because of its having caused the spill of over a million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River Watershed in 2010.

Federal investigation of the spill shows that the most expensive pipeline accident in US history could have been—and should have been—prevented.

Accordingly, the PHMSA charges that Enbridge is in probable violation of 24 regulations which culminated in the spill.  The 24 violations can be placed in four major categories, which I’ll copy verbatim, except for punctuation:

Enbridge was aware of corrosion on its line for years and did nothing to fix it.

Enbridge identified corrosion on its pipeline in a 2004 on-line inspection.  One year later, the company found crack-like anomalies on the same pipe segment.

Despite knowing of a threat to the integrity of its pipelines, Enbridge did not attempt any remediation of the corrosion or cracks, and the pipeline ultimately ruptured on July 25, 2010, spilling over a million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River.

Oil sands tarred Painted Turtle   Photo credit Michigan DNR

Enbridge did not provide officials with accurate and timely information.

Enbridge did not notify officials of a potential spill until approximately 17 hours after they discovered it.  Following the spill, Enbridge provided authorities with inaccurate or out-of-date information regarding the spill and its clean-up activities.

Enbridge did not follow its written safety procedures for responding to, investigating and correcting a spill.

In many cases, Enbridge’s failure to follow these procedures increased the size and severity of the spill, and increased the risk of public exposure to harmful toxins.

Enbridge dramatically underestimated the worst-case spill scenario for its pipeline.

Enbridge found that the worst-case spill scenario would involve a maximum spill of 151,000 gallons, assuming a rupture of the magnitude be identified and shut down in 8 minutes.

During the Kalamazoo spill, it took Enbridge 17 hours to shut the pipeline down.  And while the total amount of tar sands spilled is still unknown, spill responders have recovered 1,150,000 gallons of tar sands.

And oil still remains in the river.

Tomorrow:  What the US must do to protect itself from another Canadian tar sands oil spill

Sources:  Huffington Post, July 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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