2 workers die in pipeline fire near Clearbrook

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2007 - 4:36 PM

The blaze in northern Minnesota led to pipeline closings that halted nearly a fifth of oil imports to the United States.

Pipeline fire

Two maintenance workers were killed Wednesday in a fire along a crude oil pipeline near Clearbrook, Minn.

Photo: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

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Two maintenance workers were killed Wednesday in a fire along a key crude-oil pipeline near Clearbrook in northern Minnesota.

The victims' bodies were recovered, said Kristine Chapin of the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety. The workers' names had not been released as of late Wednesday.

An initial assessment indicates that during repairs, a fitting failed on the 34-inch-diameter Enbridge Energy interstate pipeline south of Clearbrook, Chapin said. Contrary to early reports, there was no explosion at the site, where Enbridge has a storage terminal, she said.

"Apparently, when the repair was finished and they brought the pressure up by again starting the oil pumping through the line, one of the fittings failed," Chapin said.

Late Wednesday, Reuters reported that the fire forced Enbridge to shut down pipelines in the Clearbrook vicinity that supply Canadian crude to Midwestern refineries, halting nearly a fifth of U.S. imports and sending prices up $1 a barrel. The lines carry an estimated 1.9 million barrels per day of crude to the United States, according to the Reuters story, which was posted on the New York Times website.

The pipe had leaked two weeks ago and a temporary repair had been put in place. As workers were removing the temporary repair, oil began leaking and the fumes ignited, said Darren Lemmerman, acting chief engineer with the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety.

The Clearwater County Sheriff's Office said the fire was reported about 3:50 p.m. Several rural fire departments responded. Residents in a one-mile radius were evacuated for a time because of smoke.

Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer said a maintenance crew from Superior, Wis., had been replacing the section of pipe that had developed the small leak.

The pipeline, which carries crude oil from Canada to Enbridge's Superior, Wis., terminal and storage facility, is part of the company's Lakehead pipeline system, he said.

Environmental damage is likely to be minimal, Lemmerman said. "This was pretty well contained because it wasn't operating at full pressure during the maintenance process," he said. "The quantity is not determined at this point, but it's not large."

Firefighters let oil on the ground be consumed in a controlled burn, he said.

Enbridge Inc., a Canadian company that also operates in the United States, has the world's longest crude oil and liquids pipeline system.

The company has reported spills and ruptures before.

Currently, Enbridge Pipelines plans to build a pipeline and related facilities and to pump crude oil and liquid hydrocarbon from a supply hub in Manitoba to the terminal in Clearbrook. It would consist of about 313 miles of new pipeline and have the capacity to deliver 186,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed expansion would run through the Minnesota counties of Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake, Polk and Clearwater, as well as Pembina County, N.D.

Oil prices rose more than $1 a barrel on fears that the disruption would tighten supplies, rebounding from a nearly $4 fall a day ago, Reuters reported.

Joy Powell • 612-673-7750


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