Enbridge says pipeline safe after NTSB blasts company

CALGARY, Alberta Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:58pm BST

Yellow caution tape blocks off part of the Talmadge Creek where absorbent booms collect oil that is flowing into the Kalamazoo river after an oil pipeline, owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, leaked an estimated 820,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river in Western Michigan, near Marshall July 31, 2010. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Yellow caution tape blocks off part of the Talmadge Creek where absorbent booms collect oil that is flowing into the Kalamazoo river after an oil pipeline, owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, leaked an estimated 820,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo river in Western Michigan, near Marshall July 31, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc, stung by a harsh rebuke from regulators over a 2010 spill that dumped more than 20,000 barrels of crude into a Michigan river system, has stepped up inspections and is confident its pipeline network is safe, the company's incoming chief executive said on Wednesday.

Company President Al Monaco, slated to replace Pat Daniel as chief executive later this year, said Enbridge has boosted spending on safety inspections since the July 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River.

"We'll be spending in the area of $400 million, which is ... probably double what was being spent (prior to the spill)," he told reporters following a speech to the TD Securities Energy Conference.

The breach raised concern about the safety of pipelines in North America, including Enbridge's planned oil sands pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, as well as TransCanada Corp's Keystone pipeline in the United States.

Enbridge operates North America's largest oil-pipeline system, which carries the bulk of Canada's crude exports to the United States.

Deborah Hersman, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said on Tuesday that Enbridge's employees "performed like Keystone Kops" after a complete breakdown in safety measures allowed the pipeline to spill crude unchecked for 17 hours.

"I'm not going to comment on the subjective nature of that moniker, but the key thing that we do right now is take the learnings ... we've had in this process," Monaco said. "We haven't just been sitting around for the last two years."

The NTSB found that Enbridge failed to accurately assess the integrity of the pipeline, including analyzing cracks that required repair, and its employees failed to follow procedures.

"Following the first alarm, Enbridge controllers restarted Line 6B twice, pumping an additional 683,000 gallons of crude oil, or 81 percent of the total amount spilled, through the ruptured pipeline," the agency said.

The board said there was a "culture of deviance" at Enbridge where personnel were not adhering to approved procedures and protocols.

Monaco said the company has done more than 200 in-line inspections within its pipelines since the spill, looking for other weak spots, and that any problem areas discovered have been investigated.

"We're quite confident in the pipeline," he said.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Steve Orlofsky)

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