Thursday, September 16, 2010

U.S. House committee findings: Sixteen hundred miles away, Enbridge Energy technicians scratched their heads for 18 hours

Enbridge restarted the pipeline twice before finally shutting it.
There was a leak in the gas line to our clothes dryer last year. We called Consumers Energy Co.

Their truck was there within minutes. The guy’s Deteco-machine found gas in the house and within minutes another truck with two guys and a gal screeched up and began unloading gear like a Marine Corps assault team.

The dug holes, took out ceiling tiles and combed every nook and cranny in the place. At one point they were suggesting that a backhoe might be called shortly to claw around our foundation in a frenzied treasure hunt.

Thankfully, they found the problem and shut it off. Then they noticed our outdoor gas meter was outdated. In a few minutes they’d torn off the old one and installed a new one – a procedure that involved an awesomely deafening few seconds of high-pressure gas blasting out of the pipe as he swapped meters. Think jet engine. And no smoking. Then they were gone with dark warning of what might become of us if I turned that gas line back on before getting it repaired.

It was professional, efficient, and fast – and I remain impressed to this day with how seriously these folks took their jobs when safety was at issue.

How is it then, that when the alarms detected Enbridge Energy Co.’s oil leak in Marshall, that it took technicians monitoring the problem 1,600 miles away in Alberta, Canada 18 hours to shut valves? 
That and other vexing issues are raised in a U.S. House committee report reconstructing the timeline of the oil spill. The Free Press’ Todd Spangler wrote this excellent account.

Folks who want to keep abreast of the latest on the Enbridge Oil spill have numerous places to do so… reason why I haven’t written more about it, others are doing it much better than I could.

But this committee report needs noting. It paints a picture of a company inexcusably out of touch with the infrastructure of its pipeline system – 1,600 miles away – infrastructure critical to maintaining the safety of Michiganders.

By the time one 911 caller told an operator that “the entire downtown smells like gas” Enbridge was still pumping oil into the water and scratching their heads. Or some other part of their anatomy.

A libertarian-minded friend told me, he hopes the disaster will be a wake up call to other companies to make sure their safety protocols are as close to infallible as humanly possible.

I hope so too. But wouldn’t mind our regulators kicking the backsides of violators too.

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