Oil spill cleanup finished but questions remain

Pipeline ruptured near Grand Marsh in July
Oil spill cleanup finished but questions remain

Kristin Wettstein was in a panic as her rural Adams County road rumbled.

“The ground shook, pictures on the wall shook,” said Wettstein, who lives on County Road G, east of Grand Marsh. “Everybody who was here looked at each other and said, ‘What the hell was that?'”

They were looking on the afternoon of July 27 at 1,200 barrels of oil shooting across Wettstein’s yard from a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy, L.P., a Calgary, Alberta-based energy company. A 4.2-foot seam in the pipeline, which transports crude oil from Superior to a Chicago-area refinery, had ruptured.

Wettstein’s family had to evacuate for a month, and returned only after Enbridge completed its repairs and environmental cleanup. The rupture is not the company’s first in the state; 11 of the 18 incidents deemed “significant” in the past decade were Enbridge’s responsibility, federal records indicate.

The company is responsible for the $10.5 million cost of the spill, for which a cause has not been determined. The cost included trucking 12,000 yards, or 120 football fields, of contaminated soil to a landfill and replacing it. The company also detailed Wettstein’s van and will replace her fences, trees and swimming pool.

The topography near Grand Marsh prevented the oil from contaminating the groundwater or leaving lasting effects on the air quality, said Bill Evans, the state Department of Natural Resources spills team supervisor in Eau Claire.

“This spill went as well as we could’ve expected,” he said. “It was very fortunate in that it happened in an area where it didn’t impact any surface waters.”

The DNR leads the government’s cleanup response, but the state doesn’t have a role in pipeline safety before failures. The federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees inspections, although an Enbridge spokeswoman said the company itself did the most testing.

“I can assure you our pipes are safe and we’re doing everything we can to learn from this incident and continue to make improvements so we can prevent other incidents are happening,” said Jennifer Smith, the Enbridge spokeswoman.

The 11 Enbridge spills in Wisconsin that regulators deemed “significant” cost the company more than $20 million and resulted in more than 12,000 barrels of spilled oil, federal records indicate.

The company has inspected its Line 14 twice in the past five years, more than the federal government requires, Smith said.

Enbridge officials predicted in 2008 that the 14-year-old pipeline wouldn’t fail for another 10 years, and was scheduled for another inspection in August 2012 — just after the pipeline rupture, federal records indicate.

PHMSA, which falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the failures indicated Enbridge’s integrity management program “may be inadequate,” according to findings after the July spill.

“Line 14, as are our other pipelines, are extremely safe,” Smith said. She said the company will spend $800 million on maintaining its system this year, up from $400 million in 2011.

Oil spill cleanup finished but questions remain

In Adams County, Wettstein said her family’s life has nearly returned to normal after the spill and cleanup.

“This has been home for 25 years, so I wasn’t leaving (after the spill),” she said, adding that Enbridge has done everything she’s asked for. “I have no complaints, none. I wish they weren’t getting the rap they are.”

Line 14 has again gone out of sight along County Road G, with its only above-ground presence several orange markers.

“It’s a necessary evil,” Wettstein said. “If you want to drive a car or a truck or whatever, you’re going to have to have oil.”

To view pipelines in your county, use the tools at the federal government’s mapping website.

For Enbridge’s response to the spill, visit the company’s website.

For an overview of pipelines in Wisconsin and significant incidents, see the PHMSA’s database.