NTSB Releases Report on Enbridge Oil Spill

NTSB Releases Report on Enbridge Oil Spill July 13, 2012

The National Transportation Safety Board has finally released its report on the July, 2010 spill of over 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River here in Michigan. The result is exactly what our reporting at the Michigan Messenger had established long ago, though in even more detail — that the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, could have prevented the spill if they’d wanted to do so. My friend and former colleague Todd Heywood has the details.

The federal agency determined that the rupture of an Enbridge Inc. pipeline, which released more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into wetlands and waterways in July of 2010, occurred at a point where the company had identified cracks in 2005. Those cracks, left unaddressed, led to the rupture, the agency has determined.

In addition to faulting Enbridge, investigators also cited ineffective regulatory oversight and action by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency within the Department of Transportation that oversees pipeline safety.

“As you heard, this accident was the result of multiple mistakes and missteps made by Enbridge. But, there is also regulatory culpability,” NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman said in her closing statement. “Delegating too much authority to the regulated to assess their own system risks and correct them is tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse. Regulators need regulations and practices with teeth — and the resources to enable them to take corrective action before a spill. Not just after.” …

Long-neglected cracks at the rupture location were key to the investigators’ findings.

While the cracks were identified in 2005, they were “misclassified” by Enbridge’s integrity management team, said NTSB investigator Matthew Fox. This misclassification “resulted in the defect remaining in the pipeline unabated until the rupture.”

The misclassification was the result of not combining all available information about the feature, Fox said. He said Enbridge had done an ultrasonic study of the wall thickness of the pipeline in 2004, and a crack analysis in 2005. Taken together, the results of these tests should have raised safety concerns. But Enbridge integrity management procedures failed to combine the data from the two tests, Fox told the NTSB.

“Had Enbridge given due consideration to the threat expectations, the crack would have been identified and excavated and the rupture likely avoided,” Fox said.

“The assessment was flawed,” said Matt Nicholson, lead NTSB investigator. “In fact, they used a wall thickness that was 14 percent greater than it actually was.” …

Operators in the control room of Enbridge’s pipelines in Canada also contributed to the extent of the rupture, according to investigators. They ignored warnings, misread alarms, and attempted to restart the line twice before the rupture was identified. Those two restart attempts resulted in hundreds of thousands of additional gallons of oil being pushed out of the pipeline.

In her opening remarks, Hersman said, “Learning about Enbridge’s poor handling of the rupture, you can’t help but think of the Keystone Kops.”

A perfect reference, since this is the same tar sands oil that will flow through the Keystone XL pipeline, owned by TransCanada. Hersman nailed it here:

“Safety is a commitment. It is a requirement. It must be a way of doing business and not just a slogan. If companies commit to safety with the same vigor that they pursue profits, then we will see integrity management programs with real integrity.”

You can read the full report here.

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