What became clear during last week’s Congressional hearing in Washington is that the Enbridge oil spill didn’t have to happen at all — and if was to happen, it didn’t have to be nearly this bad. Enbridge’s own monitoring in 2009, 2007 and 2005 revealed weaknesses in the pipe near Marshall, but Enbridge did no repairs. Enbridge said the weaknesses did not meet the federal threshold for repairs, and so Enbridge did nothing.
Then, once the pipe ruptured, it took Enbridge 13 hours to shut down the pipeline. During most of that time, oil spewed from the gash in the pipe into Talmadge Creek and then the Kalamazoo River.
The last panel of the day had only one witness: Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel. He started out saying that he has repeatedly apologized and continues to apologize about “the mess we made in Marshall, Michigan.” He said that the remediation is “well on its way.”
Then again, shortly before the Marshall pipeline rupture, Enbridge’s vice president told Congress that Enbridge has the capability to instantaneously shut down a pipeline as soon as there is a spill. That didn’t happen in Marshall. Instead, it took 13 hours to shut off the oil flow.
Congressman Oberstar took on CEO Daniel, comparing Enbridge’s statements with its actions. He clearly showed that based on its own words, Enbridge knew or should have known that the pipe near Marshall could rupture at any time. And he showed that Enbridge made it much worse by not responding right away to the spill.
Then Representative Schauer took on the pipeline company. First, the Congressman noted the 329 known anomalies in the 6B pipeline (the pipe running through Marshall) and the company’s request, 10 days before the rupture, to run at reduced capacity while it determined what to do.
Schauer asked why, if safety was paramount, did Enbridge ask to run at reduced capacity instead of just making the repairs. Daniel first said that Enbridge was working with PHMSA on that, and then when pressed by Schauer, admitted that PHMSA had not approved Enbridge’s request.
The Congressman asked, “when are you going to repair those defects?”
Daniel said that Enbridge is working on inspecting and repairing all of them, but not all at once. The Enbridge CEO couldn’t say when all of the anomalies be repaired, despite repeated questions from Rep. Schauer. Rep. Schauer said he has no confidence that Enbridge can operate the pipeline safely until all the repairs have been done. He’s asked the federal agency, PHMSA, to make sure that every single inch of pipeline is inspected and any weakness, especially the 329 defects, be repaired.
The Congressman queried Enbridge’s Daniel about the discovery and reporting of the event. Enbridge sent a worker to the site at 9:41 a.m. the morning of July 26 to check out reports and said he could smell nothing….. after all the 911 calls about fumes the past 12 hours. Daniel couldn’t explain that.
At Enbridge central operations, alarms indicating pressure drops and possibly leaks sounded and continued for 13 hours before Enbridge shut down the pipeline. Daniel could not explain why it took so long.
Rep. Schauer then asked why Enbridge demanded medical record disclosures from people who asked for help with health care. Daniel said that wasn’t the intent of the forms. Schauer pointed out that that’s what the medical disclosure forms did, and asked Daniel if they were still being used. Daniel didn’t know.
Rep. Schauer pointed out that Enbridge demanded a waiver of all future rights for payment for hotel room.
Daniel responded that the company processed hundreds of claims, and 36 had this waiver form. He said Enbridge has contacted all 36 people and said the form will be rescinded. The CEO did acknowledge that the form never should have been used. However, I wonder if Enbridge used the form for more than 36 claims; several of the Marshall residents who testified had been handed the form, and they hadn’t been contacted yet.
Representative Schauer wrapped up the hearing this way: “The words and the actions of your company haven’t matched up…. This is a community that’s been turned inside out….. How can you keep your promise to make sure this community is made whole?”
Of course, there’s no way that Enbridge can make the community whole. Enbridge is going to need to invest in that community for years, and even decades, to reverse most of the damage it’s done. But some of the damage simply isn’t reversible.
As the oil and gas pipeline infrastructure in this country ages, we will have more and more of these spills. Marshall showed us that it’s not just off-shore drilling that should worry us. We can keep on trying to clean up these messes, or we can move away from relying on dirty fuels. Which, by the way, has this incidental benefit of combating global warming.
That choice seems like a no-brainer. Maybe somebody should tell the folks in Congress who killed the energy/climate bill that comprehensive climate and energy legislation would have weaned us off of our dependence on oil.
Or better yet, maybe they should take a trip to Marshall and ask themselves if that’s what they’d like to see in their districts.