Pipeline that ruptured near Marshall, Mich., winds through Michiana
Oct 25, 2012 (Menafn - South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Two years ago, a pipeline transporting crude oil ruptured near Marshall, Mich., spilling the product into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.
Despite alarms signaling the problem, the crude continued to pour into the tributary for 17 hours until a local utility worker discovered it and contacted Enbridge Inc., the Canadian company that owns the pipeline. Today, cleanup is still under way at a cost approaching 1 billion, making the incident the most expensive on-shore spill in the country's history.
That same pipeline, installed in the late 1960s, winds through Michiana and traverses areas in or around LaPorte, New Carlisle, Niles, Edwardsburg, Vandalia and Three Rivers. Its age and proximity prompt the question: Could it happen here?
Anything's possible but it appears the risk at least has been reduced, thanks to new safety regulations and a 1.3 billion pipeline replacement project that's expected to significantly improve the quality of the 285-mile pipeline. So, too, will it increase the volume of oil it transports.
"This is brand new state-of-the-art technology that didn't exist in the late 1960s,'' said Jason Manshum, senior adviser for Enbridge Energy in Marshall. "It'll be more reliable.''
The new pipeline is thicker than the old one and wider in diameter. Also, it features an epoxy coating that's said to be more resistant to corrosion, a factor that came into play when the current line cracked and began to leak oil into the creek near Marshall on July 26, 2010.
A subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board was sharply critical of Enbridge, pointing out that the company had known for five years about cracks in the pipeline that eventually ruptured but had failed to act.
Also, operators in the Enbridge control room in Edmonton, Alberta, dismissed alarms indicating low pressure in the pipeline, believing the problem stemmed from factors other than a rupture. Twice, attempts were made to restart the flow of oil, adding hundreds of thousands of more gallons of crude to the more than 150,000 gallons that initially spilled.
In the wake of the disaster, U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and John Dingell, D-Dearborn, Mich., authored a bipartisan pipeline safety bill updating prior legislation. Altered but retaining much of its original language when it was signed into law in January by President Barack Obama, the bill, among other things, boosts fines for safety violations, requires new pipelines to feature automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves, and orders pipeline operators to notify federal authorities within one hour of the discovery of an incident.
Upton said Wednesday property owners who live near pipelines will benefit.
"It takes advantage of the best technology to protect from these spills,'' he said.
Another response to the spill was Enbridge's pipeline replacement project. Plans call for abandoning the existing line and leaving it in place, after it's purged of oil and filled with an inert gas.
As for the massive spill that carried 30 miles downstream before it was contained, the Environmental Protection Agency reported earlier this month that more than 1.1 million gallons of oil had been collected from the river. But still more cleanup is needed, the EPA said.
Enbridge's pipeline is separate from the pipeline maintenance work scheduled to start Monday in South Bend by Naperville, Ill.-based BP Pipelines (North America). The work will impact the westbound lane of Auten Road and require Lilac Road to be closed at Auten.
Until the work is completed on or about Nov. 12, property owners on Lilac will follow a detour taking them west on Auten to Portage Road, where they'll turn north. From there, they'll go east on Bertrand Road in Michigan and south on Copp Road. Copp becomes Lilac once it crosses into St. Joseph County (Ind.).
Staff writer Lou Mumford:
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