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Government Investigation Raises Red Flag on Pipeline

Almost two years ago, one of the worst and most expensive pipeline spills happened in the Kalamazoo river leaving tarsands and chemicals like benzene destroying families lives and property. The federal agency tasked with reviewing transportation accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), issued a damming report that raises not only red flags but gives substantial proof to the concerns citizens and landowners have echoed for years regarding the proposed TransCanada pipeline.

We do not have to sit by and watch as our state officials–including Gov. Heineman, Sandhills state senator Deb Fischer and Attn. Gen. Bruning–continue to do nothing to protect our state, land and water. Help us take action right now by taking a picture near a Nebraska body of water.

While the full report will be made public in the coming weeks, the summary online now has recommendations for federal government, oil trade association and tarsands companies. The summary NTSB gave about the spill helps put the risks associated with TransCanada’s proposed 36-inch pipeline into major perspective:

“On Sunday, July 25, 2010, at 5:58 p.m., eastern daylight time, a segment of a 30-inch-diameter pipeline (Line 6B), owned and operated by Enbridge Incorporated (Enbridge) ruptured in a wetland in Marshall, Michigan. The rupture occurred during the last stages of a planned shutdown and was not discovered or addressed for over 17 hours. During the time lapse, Enbridge twice pumped additional oil (81 percent of the total release) into Line 6B during two startups; the total release was estimated to be 843,444 gallons of crude oil. The oil saturated the surrounding wetlands and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Local residents self-evacuated from their houses, and the environment was negatively affected. Cleanup efforts continue as of the adoption date of this report, with continuing costs exceeding $767 million. About 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. No fatalities were reported.”

Anthony Swift, an expert working at NRDC, wrote a blog about the report. We pulled some key points from Anthony and the report below.

  • The cause of the rupture of Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline was caused by the interaction of stress cracking and corrosion.
  • Enbridge had been aware of both the corrosion and cracking on line 6B for five year, but the Canadian tar sands company failed to consider how the combination of corrosion and cracking would interact to lead to a pipeline rupture.
  • Enbridge continued to operate the pipeline for 17 hours after the spill despite warnings from the leak detection system.  The operator took no steps to investigate the potential leak, did not respond to 911 calls reporting the smell of oil, and only shutdown the pipeline after third-parties located the spill.
  • Enbridge’s spill response plan was grossly inadequate for addressing a spill of this magnitude. The company’s closest responder was 10 hours away. Only a small trailer of equipment had been prepositioned to respond to a spill. Enbridge was also not prepared for a spill involving oil which did not float on the top of a river body. As we’ve seen, a large percentage of tar sands diluted bitumen sinks in waterbodies soon after a spill. The company not only lacked sufficient quantities of spill response equipment, but they had the wrong type of spill response equipment which only contained oil floating on the water’s surface.
  • The pipeline’s failure was in part due external corrosion which combined with stress corrosion cracking, led to a pipeline failure. We’ve discussed for some time how the higher temperatures of tar sands can speed corrosion while pressure variations that can occur in viscous, or thick, tar sands can contribute to cyclic pipeline stress.
  • Enbridge’s failure to identify the spill was in a large part due to a leak detection system prone to false alarms. We have discussed in some detail that more viscous, or thicker, tar sands leads to far more “noise” for pipeline leak detection systems which may trigger false alarms – meaning that a real spill is not identified.

Upon the release of the NTSB report, Enbridge officials earned the nickname of “Keystone Kops,” due to their action resembling those of the bumbling police force of early silent films. A Reuters article quoted NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman who said, “This 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.” The article continued, “The NTSB said the main failure of the pipeline was due to multiple small ‘corrosion-fatigue cracks’ that grew over time to create a breach in the pipe over 80 inches long.”

ACTION
Groups across our state and country are marking the two-year anniversary with events highlighting the concerns of tarsands on water, land, wildlife and property rights. In Nebraska, we are asking Nebraskans to send pictures to info@boldnebraska.org of you and your friends and family by a water crossing holding a “Keep Our Water Blue and Tarsands Free” handmade (or yard) sign. Please send your picture by July 20th. You can also call Ben with questions 402-705-8679. 

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