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Oil spills hit on land, too: Aging pipelines imperil Midwest

Oil spills in recent weeks, from Canadian-owned pipelines that supply Midwest refineries, are another sign of nation's aging infrastructure. Latest spill expected to raise Midwest gas prices by 30 cents a gallon for several weeks.

By Staff writer / September 14, 2010

In this July 29 photo, a worker watches water come out of a pipe in Talmadge Creek where booms have been set up to contain an oil spill in Marshall Township, Mich., near the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge, a Canadian company whose pipeline leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a major Michigan river was warned by government regulators in January that its monitoring of corrosion in the pipeline was insufficient.

Paul Sancya/AP/File

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Two oil spills between late July and last week in Michigan and Illinois are expected to significantly raise prices at Midwestern gas pumps even as they raise questions about the aging infrastructure of pipelines delivering oil and natural gas from Canada to Midwestern refineries.

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The two broken pipelines are owned by one company: Enbridge Energy Partners of Calgary, Alberta, a firm that is poorly regarded by environmentalists for a large, and increasing, number of spills that have dumped millions of gallons of crude into the environment over the past decade.

The company is the largest from Canada to deliver oil and natural gas into the United States. The majority of its oil and gas ends up in the Midwest, at refineries located in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

In late July, a pipeline owned by Enbridge connecting Sarnia, Ontario to Griffith, Ind. ruptured, sending over 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan. Last Thursday, another Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Romeoville, a suburb of Chicago, releasing 256,200 gallons of oil. The US Environmental Protection Agency says the leak was stopped Monday.

The cause of the Illinois spill is not yet known, but preliminary reports regarding the earlier Michigan spill show that corrosion may have played a part in the release of oil. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency operating under the US Department of Transportation, told Enbridge in January that the pipeline did not comply with federal regulations. The pipe was manufactured in 1969 and received a dozen federal citations and warnings for safety violations since 2002.

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