Aug 22, 2012 4:15 AM GMT
Wouldn't be so dangerous if there were adequate regulations. (So much for self-policing) I thought the following was especially remarkable:
After the dilbit gushed into the river, it began separating into its constituent parts. The heavy bitumen sank to the river bottom, leaving a mess that is still being cleaned up. Meanwhile, the chemical additives evaporated, creating a foul smell that lingered for days. People reported headaches, dizziness and nausea. No one could say with certainty what they should do. Federal officials at the scene didn’t know until weeks later that the pipeline was carrying dilbit, because federal law doesn’t require pipeline operators to reveal that information.
The 2010 spill could have been worse if it had reached Lake Michigan, as authorities originally feared it might. Lake Michigan supplies drinking water to more than 12 million people. Fortunately, the damage was restricted to a tributary creek and about 36 miles of the Kalamazoo, used primarily for recreation, not drinking water.
The N.T.S.B.’s investigation of the Michigan spill identified “a complete breakdown of safety” at Enbridge, the pipeline’s operator. But it also revealed that pipeline rules are weakly enforced. One telling fact: Enbridge discovered defects in the area where the pipeline eventually ruptured as early as 2005, and reported them to regulators. Yet the company was able to delay making repairs without breaking any rules.
The N.T.S.B. also found that Enbridge’s leak detection system did not work as advertised. The company had said that its sensors could spot a leak and shut down in less than 10 minutes. TransCanada, the company that is building the Keystone XL, makes similar claims. Yet it took operators in Enbridge’s Canadian control room 17 hours to realize their pipeline had torn open. Sensors triggered 16 alarms but operators continued to pump dilbit into the line, believing the problem was an air bubble, until someone in Michigan saw oil on the ground and called Enbridge’s emergency line.
The leak-detection problem is industry-wide. Oil spill data maintained by federal regulators show that over the last 10 years, advanced leak detection systems identified only one out of every 20 reported pipeline leaks. Members of the public detected and reported leaks at four times that rate.