U.S. officials block Enbridge from reopening pipeline after Wisconsin spill

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. - U.S. officials are demanding Calgary-based oil giant Enbridge submit a re-start plan before it can re-open a pipeline which spilled thousands of gallons of crude in Wisconsin last week.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced Tuesday it has blocked Enbridge's Houston-based subsidiary from reopening the 687 kilometre line.

Administration officials must approve a re-start plan that establishes leak patrols and details co-ordination with local emergency workers before the company can resume operations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that he plans to meet with company officials soon.

He said they'll have to convince him why the pipeline should continue to operate without an overhaul or complete replacement.

The pipeline carries crude oil to Chicago-area refineries. It ruptured Friday, spraying about 1,200 barrels, or about 50,400 gallons, of crude into a pasture just east of Grand Marsh, Wis., in Adams County. The cause of the spill is still unknown.

"Pipelines operate safely across the country every single day," LaHood said. "That's why accidents, like the one in Wisconsin, are absolutely unacceptable."

Enbridge (TSX:ENB) said it's not unusual for the administration to issue such an order and the company is already working on complying.

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an email that repairs to the pipeline should be complete by Thursday and the company is preparing a re-start plan.

"The safety of people who live and work near our pipelines and the environment is Enbridge's top priority," she said.

Enbridge officials said the spill was quickly contained and no one was hurt.

State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ed Culhane said the pasture's owner and his wife, as well as a woman, her daughter and her mother were evacuated from two homes near the rupture because the air was full of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer.

Some cattle and horses also had to be rinsed off, he said.

The company managed to vacuum up between 12,600 and 21,000 gallons, Culhane said. The pasture doesn't have any surface water, he said, and no wildlife was affected.

The company is currently working to skim off the contaminated soil and dispose of it and the company's contractors are beginning to test ground water for contamination, he said.

The pipeline safety administration issued a nine-page order requiring Enbridge to submit the re-start plan.

The order also calls for additional corrective measures, saying the line crosses multiple rivers, highways and population centres.

The requirements include completing an analysis of the failed pipe; contracting with an independent operator to evaluate the company's procedures, maintenance history and repair decisions; submitting a plan for long-term testing on the line; and submitting monthly reports on testing and repairs.

The order also questioned the company's pipeline integrity program, noting tests performed during the pipeline's construction in 1998 revealed defects in seams in multiple locations and that the pipeline ruptured in January 2007, spilling 63,000 gallons of crude in Clark County.

Another Enbridge pipeline ruptured in July 2010, spilling more than 840,000 gallons of crude near Marshall, Mich.

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