CBS 19 Investigates: Enbridge pipeline operations

CBS 19 Investigates: Enbridge pipeline operations

Enbridge Energy has a subsidiary in East Texas that's responsible for the 12-inch pipeline that exploded Tuesday night in Rusk County.

The company does business all across the U.S. and Canada. It may be most widely known for a broken oil pipeline in Michigan that spilled up to 1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamzaoo river. That was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

In East Texas the company has a lower profile and deals in natural gas. But Enbridge has racked up nearly $150,000 thousand dollars in fines with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration over safety violations since 2010.

That year there was a problem at a facility in Cass County. Hydrogen sulfide leaked out, people got sick, and one of the workers there died. A 2012 complaint and a 2013 inspection resulted in additional safety-related fines.

The actual operation of all those miles of pipeline falls under the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. That agency keeps detailed records of every leak and spill.

Since 2002 Enbridge has 21 spills or leaks on record. Some are described as very small with no pollution. In fairness to the company, several of those were likely unavoidable due to damage from hurricane Rita.

But there are big problems too: For example, a valve that didn't close and instead allow leaks to continue. There was one incident in the gulf of mexico involving a gas plume 50 feet high and 1-hundred feet wide.

At least two other incidents have involved mowing crews like the man who died Tuesday night in Rusk County. However, they spotted a problem and then made it to safety.

There is an automated leak detection system called SCADA that's supposed to spot these problems early on. Since 2010, records indicate that the system was installed for eleven of the thirteen incidents, functioning for ten of them, and yet only alerted the company to three of thirteen leaks.

When you add up the money involved since 2002, more than $1.1 million worth of gas has been lost into the environment. Together the 21 incidents have caused a staggering $15 million worth of property damage.

Enbridge has had one person injured in a pipeline incident since 2002. There were no fatalities on record until now. (The Cass County incident involving hydrogen sulfide was not classified as a pipeline incident.)

Enbridge released the following statement in response to our questions:

Midcoast Energy Partners, L.P. continues to investigate the cause of a pipeline rupture near Henderson, Texas after the line was apparently struck during contract right-of-way clearing activities being performed by a crew employed by Thunderhorse Oilfield Services, LLC. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and co-workers of the contractor, Conner Wilson, who was fatally injured during the incident. Representatives from the Texas Railroad Commission and the Occupational Health & Safety Administration have visited the site; we are cooperating fully in their respective investigations. 


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