Feds say Enbridge pipeline may never restart

Michigan Messenger

August 27, 2010

Restart plan continues to be plagued with problems

MARSHALL — A top official from the Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation announced Thursday night that the pipeline that burst in July spewing a million gallons of Cold Lake crude oil into Calhoun county waterways may never reopen.

John Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told a gathering of about 100 Calhoun county residents that the department put the safety of residents ahead of anything else.

“It’s an open question on whether, when and how we’ll move forward,” Pocari said. “We’re not agreeing at this point on a restart plan.”

He said it could take months “if not years” for the Department of Transportation to authorize the restart of Enbridge Energy’s Lakehead Pipeline 6B.

Enbridge officials earlier this month provided the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration with a proposed restart plan for the line. That proposal was rejected by PHMSA “because the plan was lacking in specific technical detail” or “adequate steps to permit a conclusion that no immediate threats are present elsewhere on the line.”

Enbridge has since resubmitted the plan for a restart, but it has not been approved.

A congressional aide with knowledge of the Enbridge investigations and the proposed restart plans provided an overview of the rejected plan as well as the resubmitted plan.

The first plan would have seen the line notched up in pressure in three increments with a minimum of one hour between each pressure increase. The second plan advises that various points of concern on 6B will be brought up to pressure 20 percent below the operational pressure of the line at the time of the July 25 rupture.

The second plan also calls for inspection of eight sites where anomalies have been found. Officials say there are 329 anomalous readings across the 6B system, including a dent in the line which crosses under the St. Clair River.

That dent is located at mile marker 751.22, about 300 feet off shore, in 30 feet of water and buried under 12 feet of sediment. Enbridge has reduced operational pressure in that section of the line to 18 percent. The dent was identified in November of 2009 and Enbridge has argued that the reduction in pressure is enough to prevent a catastrophic leak into an area that provides the majority of drinking water for the Eastern part of Michigan. Enbridge officials have told PHMSA regulators that an engineering survey of the line shows it has a shelf life of 280 years still left on it.

A second dent, which has not been reported until now, was located at mile marker 710.74. That dent was visually verified by a dig in the location and has been identified as “an anomaly dent with minor metal loss.” Enbridge, in response to this, reduced the pressure on the line to 90 percent capacity and says that is sufficient to address the anomaly.

Also of concern on the second start up plan, the congressional aide said, was the leak detection system proposed. Enbridge is proposing to operate a system which will identify a leak if they detect a 15 percent drop in line volume. That means as much as 15 percent of the crude oil pumping through the line could be released into the environment before Enbridge would identify it as a leak.

The Congressional aide said Alaska requires identification of a one percent volume drop in pipelines to prevent catastrophic pipeline failures.

In addition to the start up issues identified by the Congressional aide, Deborah Hersman, director of the National Transportation Safety Board, announced new findings based on an examination of the ruptured line in the Washington D.C. area labs of the NTSB.

Hersman said investigators found the plastic wrapping on the pipe to have “low adhesion” at some locations, and that investigators had discovered corrosion on the pipe.

Enbridge has maintained the inline inspection tools, called smart pigs, had not identified any anomalies in relation to the point where the pipe ruptured, at mile marker 608.


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