Enbridge Expects $40 Million Fine, EPA’s Stiffest Ever for a Pipeline Spill

The fine could top $100 million if the agency finds negligence or other adverse circumstances.

Workers with the Environmental Protection Agency clean up a creek after the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010. Credit: Michigan state

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The Environmental Protection Agency may penalize Enbridge Inc. with the stiffest fine ever imposed under the Clean Water Act for an oil pipeline disaster, based on an InsideClimate News review of EPA enforcement data covering the past 15 years.

Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline operator, expects a $40 million penalty for spilling 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River five years ago, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Under federal law, the EPA could levy $100 million or more, depending on whether the agency finds that the pipeline rupture resulted from negligence, and other factors. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, is worth an estimated $30 billion.

Read: Five Years After Michigan Oil Spill, Unfinished Business Remains

A fine in that range would top the biggest pipeline fine since 2000––the $34 million that the EPA fined Colonial Pipeline Co. in 2003 for a series of spills, the enforcement records show. The largest fine that the EPA has imposed under the 1972 Clean Water Act was $5.5 billion for BP Exploration and Production’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, which dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental activists say the Enbridge penalty should be substantial enough to send a message to pipeline operators that catastrophes like the Kalamazoo spill won’t be tolerated and that they must act more responsibly.

“The EPA needs to say enough is enough,” said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. “By setting the maximum allowable penalties, the EPA can get across to the pipeline companies that it’s time to stop these types of catastrophic spills from happening again.”

The agency declined to comment on the matter. The most recent Clean Water Act fine imposed by the EPA for a pipeline disaster was $3.1 million earlier this year against ExxonMobil for the 2013 spill of 134,000 gallons of heavy tar sands oil from the Pegasus pipeline near Mayflower, Ark.

Other pipeline spill fines under the Clean Water Act include:

  • The $34 million in 2003 against Colonial Pipeline for a series of spills totaling more than 1 million gallons of oil and gasoline in three southern states.

  • $25 million in 2011 against BP Exploration of Alaska over two oil spills totaling 213,000 gallons that fouled the North Slope of Alaska.

  • $3.2 million in 2010 against Plains All American Pipeline for 10 oil spills totaling 273,000 gallons.

Fifteen years of Clean Water Act violations for oil pipeline spills: