Regulator rejects Enbridge pipeline restart plan following oil spill in Michigan

By Phaedra Friend Troy

Federal regulators have disapproved the pipeline restart plan submitted earlier this week by Enbridge Energy Partners (NYSE:EEP) for the ruptured line near Marshall, Michigan. 

Major US pipeline operator Enbridge submitted a plan to federal regulators late Monday to restart the Line 6B section of the Lakehead pipeline system in Michigan, following a rupture that caused an oil spill to enter the Kalamazoo River. 

The US regulator Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rejected the plan, claiming it did not sufficiently overcome safety issues in the pipeline. 

In a letter to Terry McGill, the president of Enbridge, David Barrett, the director of the PHMSA central region, stated that the company’s restart plan “does not contain sufficient technical details or adequate steps to permit a conclusion that no immediate threats are present elsewhere on the line that require repair prior to any restart of the pipeline, even at a further reduced pressure.”

The regulatory group added that it will not approve a pipeline restart plan that does not involve digging up and uncovering additional pipe and making repairs or replacements in the pipeline where necessary.

The amount of pipeline that is required to be excavated and exposed was not divulged.

The new plan, which is expected by the end of business on Aug. 13, 2010, must include further anomaly investigations, pressure test information and supplementary clarifications and requested changes by the regulators.

Barrett also added that an approval of the restart plan is not guaranteed after the required information is added.
“I may direct to disapprove, comment, or direct modification of any plan provision upon resubmission,” he wrote. 

The approval by the PHMSA is required before Enbridge can restart the pipeline section that transports 190,000 barrels of petroleum a day to refineries in the Midwest US and Southern Ontario, Canada.

Numerous refineries in the region have been forced to reduce thruput due to diminished petroleum deliveries.

A section of the massive Lakehead pipeline system, Line 6B ruptured on July 26, spilling an estimated 19,500 barrels of oil into a tributary that feeds the Kalamazoo River. Since then, Enbridge has been working feverishly to contain and clean the oil spill in Michigan.

A 6.5-foot gash in the pipeline was identified and sent to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) labs in Virginia for investigations into the cause of the accident.

The next press briefing by Enbridge is not currently slated until Aug. 12, 2010.

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