Enbridge, the Canadian company poised to build the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline, received a scathing assessment this week from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after an inquiry into a 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan revealed the company’s mismanagement of what unfolded into a “tragic and needless” disaster.
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A combination of “human error” and miscommunication culminated in the reckless release of over 843,000 gallons of Albertan diluted bitumen from the Enbridge Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River. The investigation found that 81 percent of the tar sands oil spill was the result of the company’s baffling response to rupture alerts, which prompted monitors to pump additional oil into the line – twice – rather than close the line’s remote controlled valves. The rupture went undetected for over 17 hours, leading to the most expensive onshore clean up effort in American history, with a price tag approaching $800 million.
In her opening remarks, NTSB’s chair Deborah Hersman likened Enbridge to the incompetent Keystone Kops of silent film, suggesting their bewildering response amounted to nothing more than a pantomime. “Why didn’t they recognize what was happening,” Hersman asked. “What took so long?”
According to the Board’s investigation, Enbridge knew about the ailing condition of Line 6B for at least five years before the rupture. A 2005 report identified about 15,000 defects with the aging pipeline that extends for 471-kilometers from Ontario to Indiana. Although nearly 900 of those defects had since been addressed, the NTSB found the 2010 rupture was caused by external corrosion at a site overlooked during the course of repairs.