July 31, 2010 / 1:36 AM / 9 years ago

Congress to probe Michigan oil spill

DETROIT (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee will probe the spill of more than 800,000 gallons (3 million liters) of oil from an Enbridge Inc pipeline in southern Michigan this week, a Michigan congressman said on Saturday.

Booms are seen floating on 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 30, 2010. REUTES/Rebecca Cook

The House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines, and hazardous materials will launch an investigation into the cause of the spill and the Calgary-based pipeline operator’s response, Representative Mark Schauer said on his website.

“Enbridge needs to answer some tough questions about how this happened, and I plan to hold them fully accountable,” Schauer, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“The company’s failure to report the incident in a timely manner put public safety at risk, and we need to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Schauer introduced legislation on Friday that would limit the time a company has to report an incident to the government’s National Response Center, and increase fines for failure to notify the NRC within that time limit.

The Detroit Free Press, citing a local county official, said that an Enbridge employee talked to firefighters near the spill site on Sunday evening, a day before Enbridge reported the spill.

Enbridge spokeswoman Terri Larson denied that, calling the assertion “completely unsubstantiated,” the newspaper said.

Enbridge said in a statement on Saturday that it continues to clean up the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River, where about 19,500 barrels of oil has leaked near the company’s pump station. It is using containment and absorbent booms at 28 sites around the spill area to remove oil.

“So far, we have been able to recover about 30,000 barrels of combined water and oil, about 5,000 barrels of which is oil,” the company said.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said on Friday that she was “very confident” that the oil’s progress toward Lake Michigan has been stopped.

Jackson on Friday flew over the spill area including the oil-fouled Kalamazoo River with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Enbridge may face substantial fines from U.S. authorities for the spill. Under the Oil Pollution Act, fines of up to $4,300 a barrel ($100 a gallon) could be levied if it’s determined the company was grossly negligent, or $1,100 per barrel if it was less egregious.

The company said it will pay all costs for the cleanup and on Saturday said it is setting up a claims process for residents affected by the spill.

Editing by Eric Beech

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