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Enbridge responded “like Keystone Kops” to Kalamazoo pipeline spill, according to NTSB

20 July 2012

The Canadian operator of an oil pipeline that ruptured in Michigan in 2010, spilling more than three million litres of crude into the Kalamazoo River, was guilty of a “complete breakdown of safety”, an investigation has found. Enbridge failed to address structural problems detected years earlier and failed to respond appropriately to the catastrophe, the National Transportation Safety Board said on July 11.

Enbridge estimates the Kalamazoo River clean up operations cost it more than $700 million
Enbridge estimates the Kalamazoo River clean up operations cost it more than $700 million

"Their employees performed like the Keystone Kops and failed to recognise their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.

The report found Enbridge knew in 2005 that the pipeline had corroded but failed to perform the repairs that could have prevented the rupture, the NTSB said. The company took more than 17 hours to realise oil was gushing into the Kalamazoo River.

The accident caused the most expensive onshore oil spill in US history with clean-up costs exceeding US$800 million. The federal pipeline agency last week fined Enbridge a record US$3.7 million.

Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel said the incident was the result of a “series of unfortunate events”.

“We believe that the experienced personnel involved in the decisions made at the time of the release were trying to do the right thing. As with most such incidents, a series of unfortunate events and circumstances resulted in an outcome no one wanted,” he was quoted as saying by newswire Bloomberg.

Earlier, hundreds of pages of evidence from a U.S. government investigation were published showing a disorganised control room and bullying of inexperienced staff were mainly to blame for the incident.

The evidence included testimony from a senior Enbridge employee who suggests the energy company, now promoting new projects in Canada such as the multibillion dollar Northern Gateway pipeline from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast, is years away from achieving "world-class" safety standards.

The environmental disaster in July 2010 triggered clean-up operations that Enbridge estimates could cost it more than $700 million. 

Enbridge said in a statement that it has co-operated with the U.S. regulatory agencies such as the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board, since the disaster and "appreciates the hard work and due diligence they had put into this investigation."

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