Enbridge is well aware of the challenges when trying to reach remote areas quickly, Curwin said. The company has emergency response plans, predefined access routes and equipment stored at five strategic locations along its Minnesota pipelines, he said.
“We know up and down the pipeline how we can get in,” Curwin said.
Preparing for the worst
The company is still reeling from its worst crude oil spill.
In July 2010, a 30-inch crude oil pipeline ruptured from cracking and corrosion in Marshall, Mich., and leaked 17 hours before Enbridge detected it.
The spill sent 843,000 gallons of crude oil into wetlands, a creek and the Kalamazoo River, and triggered temporary evacuation of more than 50 houses because of high levels of benzene, a toxic component of oil.
Enbridge has spent more than $1 billion to clean up the area, roughly the price tag of the Minnesota portion of the new Sandpiper pipeline.
Federal investigators blamed the Marshall accident on “pervasive organizational failures” at Enbridge, and the company has said it expects to pay an estimated $29.6 million in federal penalties.
Curwin says the fallout from the spill has dramatically changed the company’s culture — for the better.
He said the company has improved leak detection, upgraded pipelines and opened a new control center in Edmonton, Alberta.
It also has hired more control-room workers and given them a new rule about shutting down pipelines, he added.
“If there’s some abnormal condition, whether they understand it or not,” Curwin said, “the Golden Rule is to shut down the line.”
As for the corrosion-protection coating that failed in the Michigan pipeline, Curwin said it “is long gone from the industry.” Now, the coating is fusion-bonded “so the circumstances that contributed to the pipe failure in Marshall cannot occur on Sandpiper,” he added.
One of Enbridge’s worst spills in Minnesota was the 2002 rupture of a 34-inch pipeline near Cohasset, Minn. That spill dumped 252,000 gallons of crude oil into a bog. Much of the oil pooled on the ground, and officials decided to ignite it, causing a mile-high smoke plume.
Enbridge says replacing that 1960s-era line is its next big pipeline project in Minnesota. Environmental officials have generally applauded those plans because the old line has been prone to ruptures.
Yet if its replacement is built next to the Sandpiper pipeline, it could mean a fifth plastic pipeline marker on the bank of La Salle Creek.
Stolen, the retired DNR pipeline evaluator, said concentrating pipelines presents a cumulative risk that Minnesota now needs to consider.
“Why should these be sacrifice areas?” Stolen said. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough?’ ”