PHMSA Proposes Largest Civil Penalty To Date Against Enbridge for 2010 Michigan Oil Spill

July 2012, Vol. 239 No. 7

The Kalamazoo River. Image: Justin Leonard.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed on July 2 a record $3.7 million civil penalty and 24 enforcement actions against Enbridge Energy for the July 25, 2010, crude oil spill near Marshall, MI.

“We will hold pipeline operators accountable if they do not follow proper safety procedures to protect the environment and local communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

PHMSA’s investigation found multiple violations of its hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations related to integrity maintenance, failure to follow operation and management procedures, and reporting and operator qualification requirements. PHMSA issued its notice and proposed civil penalty to Enbridge in a Notice of Probable Violation.

Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured on the evening of July 25, 2010, while the pipeline was in the process of a scheduled shutdown. Despite control center alarms, there were several attempts to restart the line, resulting in more pressure that expelled more oil. On July 26, a local natural gas company employee notified the Enbridge control center about the spill. By that time, more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil had been spilled.
Enbridge has 30 days to respond to PHMSA.

Pipeline safety is a top priority at PHMSA. In April 2011, Secretary LaHood issued a Call to Action on pipeline safety, asking pipeline operators to replace and rehabilitate aging pipelines. PHMSA closed a record number of enforcement cases in 2011 and is collecting more data about pipelines and stepping up efforts to educate the public about staying safe around pipelines. The new Pipeline Safety Act gives PHMSA even more ways to hold pipeline operators accountable as well as the ability to issue civil penalties double that of previous statutory amounts for operators that violate pipeline safety laws.