On July 10, 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) approved a staff report that faults both Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership (“Enbridge”) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) for a 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled almost 850,000 gallons of crude oil in Marshall, Michigan.  The NTSB Report comes on the heels of PHMSA’s proposed $3.7 million penalty against Enbridge for the spill (see July 9, 2012 edition of the WER).

The NTSB Report concludes that while the rupture occurred due to known crack defects in corroded areas, and was exacerbated by Enbridge’s “inadequate” staff and training and operating procedures, PHMSA’s regulations also contributed to the spill.  Specifically, the report states that PHMSA’s regulations regarding the “discovery of condition” are ambiguous and resulted in Enbridge reporting the defect 460 days after discovery, delaying its repair.  In addition, the NTSB Report states that PHMSA failed to follow up on findings from this defect report and did not require Enbridge to excavate and repair the pipe segments with defects.  The NTSB further found fault with PHMSA’s response capability planning requirements, concluding that these requirements are not adequate to ensure a high level of preparedness.  Lastly, the NTSB Report determined that PHMSA contributed to the rupture with its unclear regulations regarding the assessment of pipeline defects and when to repair and remediate such defects, and its ineffective oversight over pipeline integrity programs and control center procedures.

Following NTSB’s conclusions, the report made several recommendations to multiple parties, including Enbridge and PHMSA.  NTSB recommended that Enbridge revise its integrity management program to ensure the integrity of its pipelines, implement training programs for control center staff, and update its emergency response procedures.   The NTSB also recommended that PHMSA amend its regulations to provide (i) a clear guide as to when pipeline cracks must be repaired; (ii) a 180 day timeframe for reports about pipeline threats; and (iii) a response planning requirement similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency.  

 A synopsis of the report is available here.