Oversight of pipeline under St. Clair River called for

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By Jeri Packer, Voice Staff Writer

Congresswoman Candice Miller is calling for an investigation into a dent in the pipeline under the St. Clair River. She recommended the item be added to a planned Sept. 15 hearing before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, scheduled to investigate the July 25 Enbridge pipeline rupture in Marshall.

Miller said Enbridge informed her of the dent last August. The energy company assured her that they were handing the situation appropriately, but she isn't convinced.

In a letter earlier this month, Miller urged Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar to consider the expanded hearing in light of "anomalies" found in the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline. The line runs through much of Southeast Michigan, passing under the St. Clair River to Sarnia, Ontario.

"Since the rupture of line 6B and the oil spill in Marshall, I have had great concern about other problems associated with this pipeline, particularly where it flows under the St. Clair River," she stated. "Due to the difficulties in accessing the site, Enbridge has not yet developed a long-term remediation plan for this section of pipeline."

The July 26 rupture in Marshall and an earlier incident in 2007, when Enbridge was fined $2.5 million for safety violations in Clearbrook, Minn., are strong evidence the repairs are in need of some oversight, she said.

"I believe Congress must provide sufficient oversight so that Enbridge and the regulators understand that we will not accept a tragic incident under the St. Clair River," she said. "An accident similar to the event that occurred in Marshall would be simply catastrophic to our region."

She cited the possible dangers of drinking water contamination of southeast Michigan waterways and also the negative impact on the economy a spill could cause by interrupting traffic in one of the busiest shipping channels in the country.

"Congress has a responsibility to provide appropriate oversight to ensure that such an event is not allowed to occur," she said. "This issue should be an official item on the agenda so that both the Enbridge representatives and the Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration can be properly prepared to answer these questions."

Enbridge spokesperson Gina Jordan confirmed the company did detect a dent near the top of Line 6B, where it crosses the St. Clair River, but said the probability the dent will lead to a leak is remote.

That said, she explained Enbridge plans to go ahead with repairs or replacement of the pipe, given its precarious location under a river.

"State of the art internal inspections last conducted in 2009 provided us information about this dent," she said. "We launched a further investigation over the last year that included an underwater inspection, a second high-tech internal inspection and a third-party engineering assessment. These activities concluded that the dent is a smooth one without evidence of corrosion or sharp features and that the dent has most likely been there since the pipe was installed over 40 years ago."

Presently, the pipe is under about 30 feet of water, 15 feet under the river bed, she confirmed. It is coated with three inches of concrete and covered with layers of gravel and boulders.

Jordan said, as an added precaution after the dent was discovered in August 2009, Enbridge reduced the pressure in the line across the river by 50 percent until repairs are done or a replacement is made.

Jordan said plans for the repairs are moving forward in a timely manner.

"The timing, location and feasibility of the repair or replacement option require gathering site layout, access, permitting, geotechnical data and other information," she said. "We have been communicating with Office of Pipeline Safety about this issue for many months. Following the OPS rules, we made written notification of this feature on August 20th. As part of the notification, we also filed our engineering assessment with the OPS, which commits to completing a repair or replacement."

Enbridge Energy Partners came to the forefront in the news after a 30-inch pipeline belonging to Enbridge ruptured in Marshall, Mich., July 26. The rupture caused an estimated 819,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into Talmadge Creek, a waterway that feeds the Kalamazoo River. The spill affected up to 25 miles of the Kalamazoo River, between Marshall and Battle Creek, according to an Enbridge statement.

Enbridge officials, in an Aug. 23 update on the clean-up, stated that "steady progress was made as ... more than 171,162 feet of absorbent and containment boom has been deployed at 41 control points. More than 63,000 gallons of oil has been recovered and more than two million gallons of oil and water mix has been delivered to Enbridge's storage terminal in Griffith, Indiana. There are now 1,497 personnel on site as part of the response effort."

Updates about the response to the leak on the 6B pipeline and related information are available online at response.enbridgeus.com.

Contact Jeri Packer at (586) 716-8100, ext. 302 or jeri.packer@voicenews.com.