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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Enbridge Oil Spill: Safety Measures Only Work If You Pay Attention

I'm reading the latest Plains Justice report on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline and its threat to the land and water of the Northern Plains. The report includes this alarming timeline of the big Enbridge pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan this summer:

Sunday, July 25, 2010
  • 5:58 PM: Pipeline pump automatically shuts down when Enbridge control center in Edmonton, Canada, receives low pressure alarm; the control center attributes the alarm to a “column separation,” meaning that they thought a vapor bubble formed in the pipeline.
  • 9:25 PM: First 911 calls from residents near the rupture due to odor
Monday, July 26, 2010
  • 4:04 AM: Enbridge restarts pipeline
  • 4:12 AM: Volume balance alarm (less oil in pipeline downstream than upstream)
  • 4:17 AM: Second volume balance alarm
  • 4:22 AM: Third volume balance alarm
  • 4:36-4:57 AM: Several more volume balance alarms
  • 5:03 AM: Enbridge control center turns off Pipeline pumps
  • 6:30-8:00 AM: Residents notice strong odor on way to work
  • 7:00 AM: Local resident collects oil sample from Talmadge Creek
  • 7:10 AM: Enbridge restarts pipeline pumps
  • 7:12-7:42 AM: Five additional volume balance alarms
  • 7:55 AM: Pipeline pumps shutdown and downstream valve closed
  • 9:49 AM: Technician called to check a pump station about three-quarters of a mile from the rupture
  • 11:18 AM: A gas utility calls Enbridge to report on oil in Talmadge Creek
  • 11:20 AM: Enbridge begins closing valves upstream and downstream of the rupture
  • 11:41 AM: Enbridge personnel confirm leak and begin to respond to the spill
  • 1:29 PM: Enbridge reports spill to the federal government
The Enbridge bosses in Alberta (that's where the TransCanada offices are, too) got warnings from their system Sunday afternoon. Neighbors smelled oil from the leak. The Enbridge bosses then turned the pipeline back on—twice. Before they had verified the cause of their own alarms, they pumped oil through a broken pipe for another 104 minutes. They didn't close valves in the area of the break until over 17 hours after the initial alarms.

TransCanada assures us they have the plans and equipment in place to address a major spill on the pipeline. TransCanada says they can shut down the pipeline and isolate trouble spots within minutes. As TransCanada pumps 435,000 barrels a day under eastern South Dakota in Keystone I and schemes to build an even bigger Keystone XL to pump 900,000 barrels per day under western South Dakota, I hope they pay attention to their alarms and safety plans better than Enbridge did last July.

Learn more about the Enbridge spill and TransCanada's inadequate pipeline safety plans: read the Plains Justice report!

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