Pipeline Company Faces up to $2.4 Million Fine

October 3, 2008

Enbridge Energy faces up to $2.4 million in fines for a pipeline explosion and fire that killed two workers in northwestern Minnesota in November, federal regulators said.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said its investigation found Enbridge committed eight probable violations.

Company spokeswoman Denise Hamsher said the findings are consistent with what Enbridge found in its internal investigation in May. Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners LP has 30 days to contest the agency’s findings and proposed civil penalties.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who chairs the House Transportation Committee, which has oversight over the pipeline administration, said the fine sends a strong message.

“A finding like this is rare and is only made in cases where there were serious lapses in safety,” he said in a statement. “It is important to send a clear message, that unsafe practices will not be tolerated.”

The accident near Clearbook, Minn., Nov. 28 killed Steve Arnovich, 35, and David Mussatti Jr., 27, both of Superior. They were welders from Enbridge’s office in Superior, part of a crew that was replacing a pipe section where a pinhole leak had been found and repaired weeks earlier.

The company determined that the blast happened after oil mist escaped from a coupling on the new section of pipeline and was ignited by a heater. The accident also caused over $2 million in property damage and caused world oil prices to temporarily spike.

The eight probable violations included operating the 34-inch pipeline at pressures higher than it was designed for, the pipeline agency said. Others included Enbridge’s failure to follow its own written procedures when it was installing and checking couplings at the site, failure to adequately review the work performed by its personnel, and failure to provide proper training. It also said Enbridge had failed to remove multiple ignition sources in the work area.

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