NPR logo Broken Michigan Oil Pipeline To Stay Shut For Now


Broken Michigan Oil Pipeline To Stay Shut For Now

A worker monitors Talmadge Creek in Marshall Township, Mich., as oil from a ruptured pipeline is vacuumed from the water. Paul Sancya/AP hide caption

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Paul Sancya/AP

A worker monitors Talmadge Creek in Marshall Township, Mich., as oil from a ruptured pipeline is vacuumed from the water.

Paul Sancya/AP

Federal officials say a pipeline that spewed up to 1 million gallons of crude oil into a river in southern Michigan earlier this week must remain closed, for now.

Enbridge Energy Partners had hoped to fix the leak and restart the pipeline in a few days. But Transportation Department officials say that can't happen until it is thoroughly inspected and tested.

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That pleases Rep. Mark Schauer, a Democrat from Michigan whose district includes much of the affected area. "The company knew there was corrosion in that section of pipeline; had actually proposed to replace that section of pipeline — never did it — and we are all suffering the consequences," Schauer said.

Meanwhile, Michigan officials criticized Enbridge Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency for not moving fast enough to control the oil spill.

The EPA is in charge of efforts to make sure the oil doesn't continue down the Kalamazoo River into Lake Michigan.

Governor Warns Of Potential 'Tragedy'

By late Wednesday, the oil had traveled at least 35 miles downstream from where it leaked in Calhoun County's Marshall Township, killing fish, coating other wildlife and emitting a strong, unpleasant odor.

It had passed through Battle Creek, a city of 52,000 residents about 110 miles west of Detroit, and was headed toward Morrow Lake, a key point near a Superfund site upstream of Kalamazoo, the largest city in the region.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has warned of a "tragedy of historic proportions" should the oil reach Lake Michigan some 80 miles away, and the vacation communities that depend on it.

Granholm on Wednesday called on the federal government for more help, saying resources being marshaled by the EPA and Enbridge Inc. — based in Calgary, Alberta — were "wholly inadequate."

State and company officials had said earlier this week they didn't believe the oil would spread past a dam at the lake, and that they would be able to contain it there.

But Tom Sands, the deputy state director for emergency management and homeland security, said during a conference call with Granholm on Wednesday that he had seen oil that had made it past the dam while he was flying over the area.

On Thursday, EPA spokesman Mick Hans said its incident commander was in the same plane as Sands and wasn't convinced oil had passed the dam. Hans said the EPA, however, wasn't trying to take issue with the report.

"We're all working together," Hans said. "Sometimes you get different technical interpretations."

Pipeline Company Warned Of Problems In January

Also Thursday — as Schauer noted — it was reported that Enbridge was warned by government regulators in January that its monitoring of corrosion in the pipeline was insufficient.

The U.S. DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration told Enbridge Chairman Terry McGill in a Jan. 21 letter that its corrosion monitoring in Line 6B did not comply with federal regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has taken control of efforts to contain and clean up the Kalamazoo River spill, said late Wednesday that it believes more than 1 million gallons of oil leaked from a pipeline into Talmadge Creek, which feeds the river. Enbridge had estimated that 819,000 gallons spilled Monday before it could stop the leak.

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Grymala said Thursday she has no comment about the Jan. 21 letter.

Enbridge said Wednesday and Thursday that it was ramping up its efforts to contain and clean up the mess. Chief Executive Patrick D. Daniel said the company had made "significant progress," though he had no update on a possible cause, cost or time frame for the cleanup.

Workers and contractors were using vacuum trucks and absorbent booms to contain and clean the spill, and the company was bringing in more help, Grymala said Thursday.

"We're getting them here as quickly as we can," Grymala said.

With reporting from Andy Robins of member station WMUK in Kalamazoo, Mich., and The Associated Press