Faults Leading to 2010 Michigan Tar Sands Spill Known to Pipeline Operator For 5 Years

Caelie Frampton/CC BY 2.0

More damning evidence against Enbridge over the Michigan pipeline failure back in 2010, that spilled tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo river: The Detroit Free Press reports that the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board says Enbridge knew about the very problem that led to the spill five years beforehand and did nothing about it.

NTSB’s lead investigator, Matt Nicholson, said the defects at the site were misidentified as problems that didn’t require immediate remediation in 2005. According to the investigators, a contractor for Enbridge – which had inspected the pipe – found what it determined to be “crack-like” features on that segment of pipe, but made that determination only after a supervisor overruled a junior analyst who through the inspection showed a “crack field.” If it had been deemed a crack field, it would have required an excavation under Enbridge’s rules.

NTSB investigators also said a “culture of deviance” led control center operators for Enbridge in Edmonton, Alberta, to deviate from a company rule that the pipeline should be shut down if, after 10 minutes of receiving a signal of a problem on the line, a reason for the problem could not be ascertained. It was 17 hours after the initial signal that the pipeline was finally shut down.

Read the original for more details. But keep in mind a couple things:

1) The Northern Gateway pipeline in Canada is an Enbridge project, traversing some very sensitive habitat. Is there any indication that a spill response there would be any more timely, appropriate or effective when (not if) a spill happens on that project?

2) This culture of deviance, in the words of NTSB, is shockingly similar to language used by the official Japanese government report on what led up to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It's a culture of opacity and (often) false assurance that everything is under control, accidents can easily be dealt with when they inevitably occur—not restricted to the Japanese nuclear industry but seemingly endemic to the fossil fuel industry more broadly.

Tags: Michigan | Oil | Oil Spill