Illinois Oil Pipeline Leak Stopped; Cleanup Under Way

September 16, 2010

Crews have removed a 12-foot section of pipe at the site of an oil spill outside Chicago that led to a spike in regional gasoline prices, but it could take weeks to clean up the contamination, federal officials said.

It’s one of three incidents involving an Enbridge Inc. pipeline since July.

Also on Sept. 12, a 91-mile oil pipeline that runs from Ontario, Canada, to New York was shut down following the discovery of a possible leak near Buffalo, N.Y.

In Illinois, a two-inch diameter hole was found in the bottom of the pipe directly above a water main that passes perpendicular to the pipe, and two holes were found in the top of the water main, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Matthew Nicholson said.

Federal investigators say they found a hole beneath the pipeline and two holes on top of a water main that runs directly beneath that pipe.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Matthew Nicholson says the broken water main still must be removed and replaced. The oil leak was discovered Sept. 9 when local water crews responded to a complaint about the water main.

The 34-inch oil pipeline, which runs 465 miles from Superior, Wis., to Griffith, Ind. — and owned by the same company whose pipeline spilled oil into a southern Michigan waterway in July — was five feet underground. The oil that was pushed to the surface reached a retention pond and the town’s wastewater treatment plant, said Sam Borries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator.

He said the total volume of the spill was not yet known, but pipeline owner Enbridge Energy Partners by late on Sept. 12 had captured about 12,100 barrels of an oil and water mixture, about half of which was oil. The continuing recovery could take weeks, he said, and the company must excavate contaminated soil and test groundwater.

Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan said it was too soon to know when the pipeline could begin moving oil again.

That determination will be made by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. A call to the agency’s Midwest office was not immediately returned.

“It’s just too early to tell,” Jordan said. “We’re focusing on safely removing the pipe and welding in the new section.”

Meanwhile, Enbridge spokesman Glenn Herchak said the 70,000-barrel-a-day line from Westover, Ontario to New York was shut down “as an abundance of caution” when about a gallon of a petroleum-based product was discovered during a sewer installation project. Crews had cleaned up the product and were working to find the source, he said.

Herchak did not know how long that line would be shut down.

“We’re undertaking our investigation and as soon as we determine a completion of that investigation, we’ll obviously be working to get that line up and running as soon as possible,” Herchak said.

The Illinois spill pushed wholesale and retail gasoline prices higher, said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

He said wholesale gas prices in the Midwest were about 30 cents per gallon higher than the West Coast and 15 to 20 cents per gallon higher than the East Coast.

Kloza said motorists in Warren, Ind., have been stung with the biggest retail price hikes. Pump prices there have soared 34.7 cents per gallon since Sept. 1. Boyd, Ky., saw an increase of 34.3 cents per gallon in the same time, and Hillsdale, Mich. saw prices jump 32.4 cents per gallon.

The spill “does mean quite a bit for supply and prices over a short-term basis,” because it’s a big line, capable of carrying 670,000 barrels a day of crude, Kloza said. “If you shut off an artery, you will have consequences.”

Enbridge also owns a pipeline that ruptured in Marshall, Mich., in July and leaked at least 800,000 gallons of oil into a waterway there.

Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., and Chris Kahn in New York contributed to this report.

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