Enbridge employees compared to 'Keystone Cops' in 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill

Jul 10, 2012

The National Transportation Safety Board is not pulling its punches against Enbridge Energy in a highly critical report of the company’s handling of the July, 2010 oil spill near Marshall.

The report finds that three shifts of Enbridge employees in Canada ignored numerous alarms indicating a rupture in one of its pipelines.  The 17-hour delay led to the release of more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil.  

“You can’t help but think about the Keystone Cops," said Debbie Hersman, the NTSB chairwoman. "Why didn’t they recognize what was happening?  And what took so long.”

Hersman says Enbridge failed to deal with the corrosion that contributed  to the pipeline leak.  And she says federal regulators failed in their oversight role.

The estimated cost of cleaning up the spill is now estimated at over $800 million, making the Marshall spill the costliest onshore oil spill  in U.S. history.

Enbridge issued a written statement after the NTSB hearing.   The statement acknowledged the work of the NTSB, but did not directly respond to the allegations made by the agency.

"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," said Patrick Daniel, Enbridge president, in the written statement.  

The National Wildlife Federation issued a statement following the NTSB hearing.

“NTSB’s findings are a wake-up call for Enbridge, and should put communities on alert that the pipelines in their back yards may not be safe," said Beth Wallace, NWF Great Lakes community outreach advisor, "The company behind the biggest tar sands spill in history can no longer hide behind rhetoric and needs to make serious changes to its business practices to protect communities from the dangers of another massive spill. "

NTSB chairwoman Debbie Hersman says the investigators determined the cause of the rupture can be traced to external cracks in the pipeline.   The company was aware of the problem, but did not fix the problem. 

Hersman says tar sands crude oil moving through the pipeline did not contribute to the accident.