Enbridge Inc., the company that was recently thwarted in its attempt to build an oil pipeline across British Columbia, has reached a $177 million settlement with the U.S. government for two ruptures in Michigan and Illinois during 2010 that spilled a total of more than 25,000 barrels of oil.
Under the agreement announced on July 20 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership and several related Enbridge companies will spend at least $110 million to prevent spills and improve operations across nearly 2,000 miles of its pipeline system in the Great Lakes region. In addition, the agencies said in a joint media release, Enbridge will also pay a total of $62 million in civil penalties for violating the Clean Water Act violations. That includes $61 million for spilling more than 20,082 barrels of oil into a creek in Marshall, Michigan, that flowed into the Kalamazoo River, and $1 million for leaking 6,427 barrels in Romeoville, Illinois, the EPA and DOJ said.
This is in addition to more than $1 billion that Enbridge has already spent for cleanup in Michigan, the statement said, as well as $57.8 million that the company reimbursed the government in cleanup costs. The incident has been dubbed the most expensive spill in U.S. history, according to Inside Climate News and Bloomberg.
The breach happened on July 25, 2010, but it took at least a day for Enbridge to figure out that a six-foot-long rip in the 30-inch pipeline was gushing oil, the agencies said. In fact the company tried to restart the pipeline twice during that time, which accounted for 81 percent of what ended up spilling, the EPA and DOJ said. The oil flowed into Talmadge Creek and from there into the Kalamazoo, which empties into Lake Michigan.
“Flooding caused by heavy rains pushed the discharged oil over the river's banks into its flood plains, and accelerated its migration over 35 miles downstream before it was contained,” the government statement described. “The rupture and discharges were caused by stress corrosion cracking on the pipeline, control room misinterpretations and other problems, and pervasive organization failures at Enbridge.”
EPA and Justice officials said the settlement contains measures that ensure such mistakes will not happen again.
“This settlement will make the delivery of our nation’s energy resources safer and more environmentally responsible,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in the statement. “It requires Enbridge to take robust measures to improve the maintenance and monitoring of its Lakehead pipeline system, protecting lakes, rivers, land and communities across the upper Midwest, as well as pay a significant penalty."
Under the settlement terms, “Enbridge does not admit negligence in the matter,” according to The Detroit News.
Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia was recently nixed by a court decision for lack of consultation with the region’s First Nations, and then the Canadian government suspended further reviews.