On the afternoon of July 27, 2012, operators in Enbridge’s pipeline control center detected a sudden drop in pressure on Line 14 near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin.
Just two years and a day after the most significant environmental incident in Enbridge’s history—the July 26, 2010 spill in Marshall, Michigan, in which nearly 20,000 barrels of oil were spilled from Line 6B—another significant pipeline spill had occurred.
When Marshall occurred, pipeline operators had analyzed the data available to them and concluded that the spill was something else, a bubble of vapor in the pipeline known as column separation. Unfortunately, their judgment was wrong.
This time, however, the outcome was far different.
“The control center spotted the drop in pressure at 2:45 p.m., and shut down and isolated the line right away to limit the amount of oil spilled,” says Rich Adams. At the time, Adams was the Vice President of U.S. Operations. Today he is the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Safety and Operational Reliability. “While the line was being shut down, a local landowner called on our emergency hotline to inform us that she could see oil spraying.”
Within moments, local Enbridge crews were on the way to the site of the spill and arrived on scene within 45 minutes of the first sign of trouble, where they quickly contained the 1,200 barrels of oil that had been released and began cleanup.
“Marshall made us realize we could further enhance our systems,” says Adams. “Following Marshall, our whole organization had refocused not just on ensuring that our pipelines and facilities were in top shape but also that our systems, policies and procedures were strong, that our people were trained and ready to respond safely and effectively in the event of trouble, and that our safety culture was built around vigilance and an abundance of caution.”
The spill on Line 14 in July 2012 was a test of Enbridge’s renewed focus, the lessons we’d learned and the improvements we had put in place following the Marshall incident.
“Our pipeline monitoring systems and the quick actions of the pipeline operators limited the environmental impact of the spill in Wisconsin,” Adams says. “The immediate call from a local landowner showed that our public awareness outreach was working and the effective response of our crews on site helped to quickly return the area to its pre-spill condition.”
Adams adds that the incident was investigated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Enbridge, and we incorporated the lessons we learned into Enbridge’s engineering program to prevent similar pipeline failures in the future.
“We strive to prevent all incidents. That’s our goal, and we are working hard to make every part of our system better, from monitoring and maintaining the health of our pipelines to leak detection technology and emergency response,” says Adams. “But if we do have an incident, then we learn from it and improve, to make our systems even safer today and for the future.”