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Lake Michigan Oil Mess Averted: pipeline questions grow in DC and Chicago

By JoshMogerman in News on Aug 1, 2010 8:30PM

While the threat to Lake Michigan from the Kalamazoo River oil spill seems to be diminished, the cleanup and concerns raised by the oil industry's follow up to the Gulf disaster are far from finished and will reverberate far outside the Wolverine state. Enbridge Energy Partners, owners and operators of the pipeline which spilled over a million gallons of oil into the Michigan waterway, announced that they had finally excavated the damaged pipe late yesterday as controversy raged over the Canadian company’s response to the spill.

The incident will surely generate uncomfortable questions in DC about pipeline safety and regulation. The Detroit Free-Press today reported that the head of the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees safety of pipelines in the U.S., has recused herself from the Michigan oil spill case because she used to work for Enbridge. And ominously similar to the Mineral Management Service oversight of oil wells in the Gulf, the Freep also notes that “many of the standards required under its technical regulations are written by an industry association.”

There are more than 165,000 miles of oil pipelines crisscrossing the U.S. with a growing number connecting the upper Great Lakes region to Canada, America’s largest supplier of oil. The damaged pipeline actually originates in Griffith, IN, sending oil products back north. Post-Tribune reporters inquired as to whether there is any connection with the controversial BP Whiting Refinery, which is a few miles away, but did not get any response.

While there are a number of unsettling connections to the incident locally, such as Enbridge’s failed effort to use eminent domain to take Illinois farmland for a pipeline transporting carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Chicago refineries, the local media’s attention remains focused on the Mayor’s carp vs. oil comments from earlier in the week. In today’s Trib, John Kass used them as a platform to launch into an unusually robust and typically juvenile rant against the Mayor and the State of Michigan (with equal disdain for both). While Kass tees off on the easy targets, local media seems to be missing the more substantial connection to the Michigan story---Chicago is criss-crossed by pipelines.