Weather Forecast


Enbridge runs through spill drill: Company plans another oil pipeline under the Red River

The scenario would be, to put it simply, catastrophic.

It’s a warm day, with a slight wind coming from the northwest. Sometime in the middle of the morning, an excavator accidently breaches a pipeline carrying crude oil near the Red River’s shore. A control station notices the drop in pressure and the pipeline is shut down, but more than 4,000 barrels of oil are spilled.

That hypothetical and worst-case scenario, and the emergency response that followed, played out during a tabletop exercise at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks Thursday morning. Officials from Enbridge, which operates a crude oil pipeline that runs just south of the city, were on hand to describe their response to such an incident.

Thursday’s event, which was attended by about 50 people, including emergency responders, public officials and landowners, comes about two years before Enbridge expects its 610-mile Sandpiper Pipeline to be in service. That line, under Enbridge’s proposal, would carry crude oil from Tioga, N.D., cross under the Red River south of Grand Forks, on its way to Clearbrook, Minn. and then to Superior, Wis.

The Sandpiper project hasn’t received final approval. One of several upcoming North Dakota Public Service Commission hearings on the project will be held Feb. 19 in Grand Forks.

“We recognize the sensitivity around infrastructure these days,” said Mark Curwin, Enbridge’s project coordinator for the Sandpiper Pipeline. “We’re doing this to show that even though we haven’t got this pipeline approved, we’re already thinking the level of preparation that needs to be in place.”

Planning for disaster

The Enbridge employees on hand Thursday offered up an overview of their plans for cleanup, environmental review, public outreach and safety in the event of an oil spill.

A large spill, like the hypothetical one described above, would require the immediate attention of local Enbridge employees and prompt action from those in nearby offices. Crews would be able to respond and have equipment in the water in less than an hour, said Enbridge spokeswoman Katie Haarsager.

“You’re looking at a small army of people coming into the community in a hurry,” said Greg St. Onge, environmental response preparedness coordinator for Enbridge.

The name of one major incident was invoked more than a few times Thursday: The rupture of an Enbridge pipeline in Marshall, Mich., that released more than 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek in 2010.

“We took responsibility for it, we learned from it,” Curwin told the crowd. He said Enbridge created positions dedicated to emergency response in the wake of the Marshall spill.

Enbridge has a “tactical response plan” that is specific to potential spills in or near the Red River, Curwin said.

“If that particular sensitive resource like the Red River is impacted by a leak on our line, our teams are essentially ready to go for the first 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “They can pull it up, and in essence they don’t have to make any decisions … they just execute.”

Enbridge’s current pipeline that runs just south of Grand Forks has had one spill in Grand Forks County since 2006. The one barrel of crude oil spilled in May 2013 was the result of equipment failure, and caused $62,400 worth of damage, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, said they’ve had discussions with Enbridge about the Sandpiper project to ensure the pipeline doesn’t affect the city’s water supply and to make sure they have an appropriate emergency response. He said in the case of a spill in the Red River, the city could still take water from the Red Lake River.

Feland said the city is supportive of pipelines as a safer option to move crude oil, as it appears more oil trains are moving through Grand Forks.

 “I think the city would rather see it in the pipeline versus more rail going through Grand Forks,” Feland said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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