Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the July 25, 2010, pipeline rupture in Marshall, Michigan, and the subsequent release of more than 840,000 gallons of crude oil into nearby wetlands, Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.
Over the course of this investigation, I travelled to Marshall twice. During my first trip, I met with local, state and federal officials, and Enbridge officers and had the opportunity to survey the damage and the extensive cleanup effort supervised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My second time in Marshall I joined other federal and state agencies for a town hall meeting with the community.
While there have been larger onshore oil spills, in this case, Enbridge Incorporated is responsible for the release that has been the most expensive to clean up. According to a recent Enbridge SEC filing and the EPA, the total cleanup cost, so far, is more than $800 million dollars. That is already more than five times the next most-costly onshore oil spill.
EPA continues to oversee the cleanup and reports that parts of the area known as the Morrow Lake Delta are still closed. And, in the weeks following the rupture and spill, the Michigan Department of Community Health said that 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. Further, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that nearly 4,000 animals were affected.
On that July evening, at about 6 p.m. when many people in Marshall were sitting down to dinner, Enbridge's Line 6B ruptured and began spewing crude oil through a more than six-and-a-half-foot-long fracture.
For more than 17 hours and over three shifts, the people controlling the pipeline did not respond to the alarms, pressure differentials or even follow one of their own safety procedures established following another catastrophic release in 1991 in Grand Rapids.
The people of Marshall would finish their dinners, get ready for the week ahead and go to bed. As they slept, and even when they got up on Monday morning, instead of stopping the flow, Enbridge staff twice pumped more oil - about 81 percent of the total release - into the ruptured pipeline.
It wasn't until late Monday morning - 17 hours and 19 minutes after the rupture - that a worker from a local gas utility found the spill and notified the Enbridge control center. Then, and only then, did the Enbridge staff begin their response and start closing remote valves upstream and downstream of the rupture.
Learning about Enbridge's poor handling of the rupture, you can't help but think of the Keystone Kops.
Why didn't they recognize what was happening? What took so long?
Today, we'll hear about the many failures that allowed a bad situation to get worse.
From Enbridge - its employees, procedures, and priorities - and too little focus on safety and too little follow up on known safety risks.
And, from the regulators - upon which the people of Marshall depended for the well being of their community - there was too little regulatory oversight.
Here are the issues - what I'll call the four Rs of a rupture.
One, recognition. When the pipe had ruptured, multiple alarms were generated, which the Enbridge control center staff failed to understand. Over three shifts, the control center misinterpreted repeated leak alarms as a condition known as "column separation" and re-started the pipeline twice.
Two, response. Once notified by another utility that their line had ruptured, Enbridge did act. But, the crude actions taken by the Enbridge employees in Marshall displayed a lack of understanding regarding source control and were completely ineffective in the face of this worst-case release. Compounding the problem, Enbridge's closest oil spill response contractor identified in their response plan was out of state and more than 10 hours away.
Three, responsibility. Pipeline operators are required to have an integrity management program, which continually assesses and addresses the safety risks on their pipelines, particularly those in high-consequence areas. In 2005, Enbridge detected the very defect that led to this failure -located within a corrosion area that Enbridge had identified the year before. Yet, for five years they did nothing to address the corrosion or cracking at the rupture site - and the problem festered.
The responsibility for a thorough, accurate and robust integrity management program rests with the operator. But in the end, Enbridge's program lacked integrity.
That brings me to the fourth R and, that is regulatory oversight. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration provides this safety net for our citizens and our communities. In this rupture, we saw the operator take advantage of weak regulations for assessing and repairing crack indications; and PHMSA was ineffective in overseeing Enbridge's pipeline integrity management programs, control center procedures, and public awareness programs; and had inadequate review of oil spill response plans.
Let me note that last week PHMSA issued proposed enforcement actions and maximum fines against Enbridge. This is a necessary and important step.
Last year, we were in this room talking about PG & E and the explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and injured 58 more. Today, we meet to talk about Enbridge and significant environmental damage in Marshall, Michigan, with more than 840,000 gallons of oil released and record cleanup costs.
In both cases, we found problems with integrity management programs, control centers, public awareness programs, and emergency response.
While our findings raise red flags about the safety of these two companies, they should also force us to ask hard questions of this vital industry.
With more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline running through this country - enough to circle the Earth one hundred times - we have to ask, "Are these companies representative of others?" If the answer is yes, we can expect to be back here again discussing the same issues with a different company. The only unknowns are when? Where? And, how much damage?"
Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.