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Serial Oil Spillers Mucking Up The Midwest

By JoshMogerman in News on Jul 29, 2012 8:30PM

Enbridge Energy Headquarters [Mack Male]

Almost exactly two years to the day after an Enbridge Energy pipeline belched a million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the company is in trouble again. More than 50,000 gallons of oil destined for Chicago area refineries ended up in a field 80 miles north of Madison, Wis., on Friday, after a portion of Enbridge’s Line 14 pipeline burst. The pipeline stretches through Wisconsin to Chicago and was a factor in a horrific accident in New Lennox earlier this year when drag racers were incinerated after hitting one of its pump stations.

Both the Wisconsin and Michigan spills occurred along Enbridge’s troubled Lakehead system, which rings Lake Michigan. There is no word on the type of oil spilled in Wisconsin, but the Lakehead pipelines carry a large percentage of Canada’s tar sands oil (also referred to as bitumen or oilsands) deliveries to the U.S. That form of energy is controversial due to its higher greenhouse gas liabilities, earning it the "dirtiest oil on the planet" moniker from environmentalists. Last week the National Academy of Sciences held hearings to kick off an investigation as to whether that type of oil requires additional safety precautions to transport, something not lost on folks in Washington, DC:

"Enbridge is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico, posing troubling risks to the environment," U.S. Representative Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

"The company must be forthcoming about this entire incident, and deserves a top-to-bottom review of their safety culture, procedures and standards," said Markey, an outspoken critic of increasing imports of Canada's heavy oil sands crude.

This is not the first time Enbridge has run into trouble in Wisconsin. In 2009, the company settled charges of environmental violations across 14 counties with a $1.1 million fine. And they have had problems here too

The timing could not be worse for the company, coming on the heels of a record fine and brutal federal accident investigation report for the Michigan spill, with contentious public debate of Enbridge pipeline proposals in the U.S. and Canada occurring in the background. Images of houses “covered in oil” will not help move those projects forward, nor will safety rundowns like this one highlighting the mounting list of the company’s pipeline problems (many of which are in our neck of the woods). And the timing is pretty bad for drivers too. Should the lines be down for a few days, just as BP’s refinery in Whiting, Ind., is down after a big fire, the event will have impact at the pumps.