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Hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - "Enbridge Pipeline Oil Spill in Marshall, Michigan"


Location: Washington, DC

Our Committee has a long record of concern over the horrible consequences that occur when pipeline safety is neglected.

I recall vividly in 1986, as Congress prepared for reauthorization of the pipeline safety program, a massive rupture that occurred on Williams Pipe Line in Mounds View, Minnesota. Corrosion was the culprit. Unleaded gasoline spilled from a 7.5 foot long opening along the longitudinal seam of the pipe. Vaporized gasoline combined with air and liquid gasoline flowed along neighborhood streets for about an hour and a half -- until the manually operated gate valve was shut-off. About 30 minutes into the release, the gasoline vapor was ignited when an automobile entered the area. Flames engulfed three full blocks of the neighborhood, and a woman and her daughter were burned severely and later died when the fireball hit their car, and another person suffered serious burns.

I have talked about that incident in every pipeline safety hearing this Committee has held and that is because I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the devastation that rupture had caused; it will be with me for the rest of my life. Mr. Schauer, I assure you, will never forget where he was when he learned of the Enbridge spill in Marshall.

Just two months ago, the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials held a hearing on integrity management of hazardous liquid pipelines. Enbridge testified at that hearing, and I questioned Richard Adams, Enbridge's Vice President of U.S. Operations -- Liquid Pipelines, about the importance of identifying and responding immediately to a pipeline rupture.

What was interesting about the discussion with Mr. Adams is that he said in that hearing: "Our response time from our control center can be almost instantaneous, and our large leaks are typically detected by our control center personnel. They have enough experience and training that, with usually a leak of any size, they can view that there is a change in the operating system, and there are provisions that, if there is uncertainty, they have to shut down within a period of time."

What we did not know at the time was that the day Enbridge testified before the Subcommittee, Enbridge requested a two and one-half year extension from the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on repairing 329 defects on Line 6B that they had known about since June 2008. Just 10 days later, that pipeline burst and, while none of those 329 defects were present at Mile Post 608 where the rupture occurred, records show that prior in-line inspections conducted in 2005, 2007, and 2009 identified a defect at the location that had not yet reached the repair criteria that PHMSA had established in Federal regulations.

While we do not yet know the cause of this incident, we do know this: We know that the spill likely occurred sometime the day before Enbridge reported it to the National Response Center. We know that contrary to Enbridge's claims at our hearing, the control center didn't even realize that a massive rupture occurred on the pipeline until a utility worker from Consumers Energy called Enbridge to report that oil had filled Talmadge Creek. We know that Enbridge personnel at the control center experienced an abrupt pressure drop on the line; that they experienced multiple volume balance alarms over the course of several hours before sending a technician to the pump station, located just three-quarters of a mile from the rupture. We know that Enbridge is reporting that the technician did not see any problems or smell any odors at the pump station even though numerous residents living in the immediate vicinity of the pump station (and others living as far as nine miles away) reported to Committee staff that they smelled strong odors the day before. We also know that Enbridge knew about hundreds of defects in the line, and we know that PHMSA was made aware of them and failed to do anything to address Enbridge's inaction. That is not a culture of safety, which I talk about a lot in this Committee.

Safety starts in the boardroom, and it should be accompanied by a concern over the terrible effects of a lapse of safety on persons living near the line. A corporation that is running around urging residents under duress to sign liability releases for reimbursement of hotel and food expenses as a result of the evacuation, air purifiers (which do not even address the health impact of inhaling Benzene or Volatile Organic Compounds), and air conditioners does not have that focus on its responsibilities for lapses in safety. Nor is there a proper assuming of responsibility when company personnel lead injured persons to believe that they must sign away their life-long medical records to Enbridge if they want medical care because it is a Federal requirement under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That isn't about safety; that is border line fraudulent and is aimed solely at gathering evidence for a legal defense against future liability claims. You would think that Enbridge would have learned a thing or two from the BP situation in the Gulf.

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