Oberstar schedules hearing on Michigan oil spill

WASHINGTON — House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar has scheduled a promised hearing on the Michigan oil spill and the safety of similar pipelines owned by Enbridge Inc., including nine in Minnesota.

A full committee hearing will be held on Sept. 15, committee staff announced today.

A pipe near Marshall, in southwest Michigan, burst two weeks ago, spilling a federally-estimated million gallons (much of which eventually ended up in a creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River, leading to a 25-mile spill footprint in that river and along its banks). Initial reports suggest corrosion was to blame, despite the fact that Enbridge had reported corrosion damage in the pipe that burst and been cited earlier this year for not adequately monitoring corrosion on an Indiana segment of the very same pipe that burst in Michigan.

In Minnesota, six Enbridge trunk lines span the state, and a further three join them at a merge point near Clearbrook. That oil-reliant town in northern Minnesota was the site of Enbridge’s deadliest accident in recent years, when pressure in a pipe built to a bursting point. Two people died in the explosion, and Enbridge was fined $2.4 million for the incident.

Oberstar had promised hearings into the recent Michigan spill and this week laid the groundwork for an investigation by sending letters to Enbridge and relevant federal regulators demanding information about the company’s safety protocols and incident history. Enbridge has had a spotty safety record, federal records show, having been cited at least 30 times for safety and inspection violations since 2002.

Those hearings are expected to run concurrently with separate (and already-scheduled) hearings on a pipeline safety bill, which was already in the works before the recent Enbridge spill.

More on the spill here. More on the investigation here. Officials said details on the investigation will be posted here as they become available.

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