Archive for September, 2010

Enbridge Oil Spill Hearing: Words and Actions Don’t Match Up

September 21, 2010

What became clear during last week’s Congressional hearing in Washington is that the Enbridge oil spill didn’t have to happen at all — and if was to happen, it didn’t have to be nearly this bad. Enbridge’s own monitoring in 2009, 2007 and 2005 revealed weaknesses in the pipe near Marshall, but Enbridge did no repairs. Enbridge said the weaknesses did not meet the federal threshold for repairs, and so Enbridge did nothing.

Then, once the pipe ruptured, it took Enbridge 13 hours to shut down the pipeline. During most of that time, oil spewed from the gash in the pipe into Talmadge Creek and then the Kalamazoo River.

The last panel of the day had only one witness: Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel. He started out saying that he has repeatedly apologized and continues to apologize about “the mess we made in Marshall, Michigan.” He said that the remediation is “well on its way.”

Then again, shortly before the Marshall pipeline rupture, Enbridge’s vice president told Congress that Enbridge has the capability to instantaneously shut down a pipeline as soon as there is a spill. That didn’t happen in Marshall. Instead, it took 13 hours to shut off the oil flow.

Congressman Oberstar took on CEO Daniel, comparing Enbridge’s statements with its actions. He clearly showed that based on its own words, Enbridge knew or should have known that the pipe near Marshall could rupture at any time. And he showed that Enbridge made it much worse by not responding right away to the spill.

Then Representative Schauer took on the pipeline company. First, the Congressman noted the 329 known anomalies in the 6B pipeline (the pipe running through Marshall) and the company’s request, 10 days before the rupture, to run at reduced capacity while it determined what to do.

Schauer asked why, if safety was paramount, did Enbridge ask to run at reduced capacity instead of just making the repairs. Daniel first said that Enbridge was working with PHMSA on that, and then when pressed by Schauer, admitted that PHMSA had not approved Enbridge’s request.

The Congressman asked, “when are you going to repair those defects?”

Daniel said that Enbridge is working on inspecting and repairing all of them, but not all at once. The Enbridge CEO couldn’t say when all of the anomalies be repaired, despite repeated questions from Rep. Schauer. Rep. Schauer said he has no confidence that Enbridge can operate the pipeline safely until all the repairs have been done. He’s asked the federal agency, PHMSA, to make sure that every single inch of pipeline is inspected and any weakness, especially the 329 defects, be repaired.

The Congressman queried Enbridge’s Daniel about the discovery and reporting of the event. Enbridge sent a worker to the site at 9:41 a.m. the morning of July 26 to check out reports and said he could smell nothing….. after all the 911 calls about fumes the past 12 hours. Daniel couldn’t explain that.

At Enbridge central operations, alarms indicating pressure drops and possibly leaks sounded and continued for 13 hours before Enbridge shut down the pipeline.  Daniel could not explain why it took so long.

Rep. Schauer then asked why Enbridge demanded medical record disclosures from people who asked for help with health care. Daniel said that wasn’t the intent of the forms. Schauer pointed out that that’s what the medical disclosure forms did, and asked Daniel if they were still being used. Daniel didn’t know.

Rep. Schauer pointed out that  Enbridge demanded a waiver of all future rights for payment for hotel room.

Daniel responded that the company processed hundreds of claims, and 36 had this waiver form. He said Enbridge has contacted all 36 people and said the form will be rescinded. The CEO did acknowledge that the form never should have been used. However, I wonder if Enbridge used the form for more than 36 claims; several of the Marshall residents who testified had been handed the form, and they hadn’t been contacted yet.

Representative Schauer wrapped up the hearing this way: “The words and the actions of your company haven’t matched up…. This is a community that’s been turned inside out….. How can you keep your promise to make sure this community is made whole?”

Of course, there’s no way that Enbridge can make the community whole. Enbridge is going to need to invest in that community for years, and even decades, to reverse most of the damage it’s done. But some of the damage simply isn’t reversible.

As the oil and gas pipeline infrastructure in this country ages, we will have more and more of these spills. Marshall showed us that it’s not just off-shore drilling that should worry us. We can keep on trying to clean up these messes, or we can move away from relying on dirty fuels. Which, by the way, has this incidental benefit of combating global warming.

That choice seems like a no-brainer. Maybe somebody should tell the folks in Congress who killed the energy/climate bill that comprehensive climate and energy legislation would have weaned us off of our dependence on oil.

Or better yet, maybe they should take a trip to Marshall and ask themselves if that’s what they’d like to see in their districts.

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Video From NWF Testimony on the Enbridge Oil Spill

September 16, 2010

Beth Wallace and I testified yesterday at the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearings on the Enbridge oil spill. We didn’t have long, but we fit a lot in.

You can watch the video of part one of the hearing and see our testimony starting at 1:52 — scroll down to find the video link.

Beth described the community and wildlife impacts in her testimony, and I made policy and procedural recommendations (pdf). We also submitted written testimony (pdf) .

We were part of a sobering but amazing panel of local residents, who all testified about the horrific experiences they’ve had as a result of the spill. One man’s wife has been hospitalized with a mysterious disease; a family’s business was shut down; the family home of two daughters was ruined just after their parents died; a daycare center and the kids inside are suffering from rashes, headaches, and vomiting.

The anger at Enbridge was palpable in the room, and that spilled over to the government agencies, particularly the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Spill Authority (PHMSA), who are supposed to regulate the pipeline industry.

After hearing residents’ stories, you can certainly see why. Imagine living in a really nice community, lots of land, a wonderful river, plenty of fishing and boating, a center for tourism, a great place to raise a family. One day and without any warning, a pipeline you didn’t even know existed turns the river into a black, oily cesspool, with fumes so strong you have to evacuate. The pipeline company and the government rush in and take over your yard, your home, your business, your kids’ schools. You can’t get answers on what’s happening, whether your family’s health is at risk, how long your lives will be turned upside down. You can’t get company or government officials to help with your immediate needs: money to evacuate to a hotel, support to take your kids to a doctor because of vomiting from the fumes, funds to keep your business going. Instead, they give you air filters bought at Walmart that aren’t designed to remove the fumes in the air. And to add insult to injury, they make you sign away all your legal rights just to get the air filter. In fact, Enbridge demanded that you sign waiver of your medical privacy rights for them to help with your heath care – giving the company access to all of your medical records.

These circumstances aren’t hypothetical. The witnesses at the hearing told these stories, and much worse.

I’ll post more on the hearing when I get back from the Capitol.

Michigan Oil Spill Hearing

September 14, 2010

It turns out the Beth Wallace, our Great Lakes oil spill response coordinator, and I will have the chance to testify at tomorrow’s hearing (September 15) on the Enbridge pipeline oil spill.

The hearing is before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at 10 a.m. (although we probably won’t be on until later in the morning), and Congressman Mark Schauer is coordinating it. His district, in Marshall, Michigan, was heaviest hit by the spill. Beth and I will post on what happens tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Asian Carp, Oil Spill and Great Lakes Restoration Highlights

September 9, 2010

I’m back after an August hiatus, and there’s lots happening. Here are a few items:

Asian carp: the breaking news is that the Obama Administration has created a new position, Asian carp director, in the Council of Environmental Quality, and filled it with none other than our own John Goss, the former executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. I’m very excited about this. I’ve known John for years and he’s passionate about the Great Lakes and very good at getting things done, a combination we really need in that job. He’s got his work cut out for him because the position doesn’t come with new legal authority, just the power to persuade and cajole and coordinate. But that’s what John does best, so I have high hopes. And we look forward to working with him. Check our NWF’s news release on the Asian Carp Tsar announcement.

On the flip side, the Administration (via the Corps) is actively fighting a lawsuit brought by the states to shut the canals. The hearing is going on this week; stay tuned for the outcome.

Kalamazoo River oil spill: The good news is that the leak was stopped within days, the oil seems to be contained and it never reached Lake Michigan. The bad news is that the spill occurred in an area that was flooded due to heavy rain events the days prior. At the spill site, 5 acres of wetlands were heavily saturated in tar oil; around 30 miles of river banks were coated with oil; and surrounding wildlife has been significantly impacted and will continue to be impacted until all oil is completely removed from the river banks.  Issues continue to arise around worker safety and residential rights. The spill happened in Congressman Mark Shauer’s district, and the committee he sits on (House Transportation and Infrastructure) is holding a hearing on it in Washington next week, September 15. NWF’s response coordinator, Beth Wallace, and I have been invited to testify before on the committee. More on that soon.

Great Lakes restoration: The first grants are out! EPA made the grant announcements this week in Green Bay and Toledo. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson personally made the announcements, four grants in Ohio totaling $1.9 million, and seven in Wisconsin at $5.2 million. These are the first wave of what’s expected in the next few weeks to be 270 projects and $160 million in grants from EPA.

Not to be outdone, the Healing Our Waters –Great Lakes Coalition announced our own Great Lakes restoration grants, 13 of them totaling $190,000. These grants are seed money to enable small organizations to go after the larger government grants.

There’s more, of course, but this post is long enough. Next week, I’ll be in Washington doing double duty: visiting Congressional offices as part of a HOW fly-in, and tracking the Kalamazoo River Oil spill hearings. I’ll post when I have more news.