The Enbridge Michigan Pipeline Oil Spill - Some Clues as to What May Have Happened

Besides BP's massive offshore oil spill, we have been reading about Enbridge's much smaller oil spill in Michigan. The amount of the Michigan oil spill is estimated to be 19,500 barrels, which is well under a single day's spill from the Deepwater Horizon, but is a record for a Midwest pipeline spill.

The federal agency that regulates pipelines is the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The PHMSA reports that in general the number of hazardous liquid accidents caused by corrosion is trending downward, but clearly, something happened in this case (not necessarily corrosion) that caused a large spill.

I checked to see what I could find online about the cause of the spill. The cause of the spill at this point is still be investigated, but there are a few clues. The spill occurred from a ruptured seam about 5 feet in length, on a pipeline that was over 40 years old--the pipeline was put in service in 1969. There was also another very similar spill in 2002, which may also provide insight.

Enbridge's pipeline 6B, which ruptured July 26, in Michigan (Photo from NTSB)

The PHMSA issued a corrective action order to Enbridge. In it, it described its preliminary findings. These included:

• At approximately 9:45 a.m. COT on July 26, 2010, Respondent discovered that a rupture occurred on its Line 6B hazardous liquid pipeline, resulting in the release of an estimated 19,500 barrels of crude oil. The failure occurred at Mile Post (MP) 608, approximately one mile south of the town of Marshall, Michigan. Marshall is located approximately half-way between the cities of Kalamazoo and Jackson, Michigan. The incident was reported to the National Response Center (NRC Report No. 948903).

• Spilled oil from Respondent's pipeline entered the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Emergency responders closed two nearby county roads. Various state and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are deploying boom and taking other response and collection measures. Spilled oil has migrated as far downriver as Augusta, Michigan.

• The cause of the failure is unknown and the investigation is ongoing. The NTSB will take custody of the failed pipe section once it is excavated and transport it to a metallurgist for examination and failure analysis.

• The pipe in the affected segment was manufactured by Siderius in 1969 and is constructed of 3O-inch x 0.250-inch wall thickness, grade X-52 submerged arc weld pipe. It has a Polyken tape coating and an impressed current cathodic protection system.

• At the time of the incident, the estimated operating pressure at the failure site was 425 psig. The maximum operating pressure (MOP) of this line segment is 624 psig and the Marshall Station discharge set point was 523 psig.

• Line 6B was last re-assessed for corrosion in June, 2009 with Ultrasonic Technology and prior to that in October, 2007 with Magnetic Flux Leakage technology. On July 15, 2010 Respondent notified PHMSA of an alternative remediation plan for metal loss anomalies found in this survey to consider pipe replacement instead of repair. Enbridge further notified PHMSA that the alternative remediation method would result in exceeding the allowable timeframe to complete remediation.

The way I read this, the failure occurred at a relatively low pressure, in a 41 year old pipeline with a lot of "metal loss anomalies". Enbridge wanted to replace the problem portions of the pipeline, but PHMSA is concerned that this will take too long. Other reports indicated that the areas where corrosion were identified were not in the segment where the spill occurred, and that there had been no plans to replace that segment of the pipe.

Other clues about nature of the spill can be found in some articles comparing the current Michican spill to another spill which took place in Minnesota in 2002. According to this recent Michigan Messenger article the two spills had several things in common, including the fact that they were very old, and carrying very heavy crude from the Canadian oil sands. (Since the pipelines were built years ago, one might expect that they were built to carry less viscous oils.)

Both lines were put in the ground in a similar time frame, with Line 4 being buried in 1967 and 6B being buried in 1969. They both have carried a combination of crude oils from Alberta, Canada to points in the Midwest of the United States as well as refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Both were likely transported by rail and truck line to their final resting places. And both were buried in marshy wetlands.

In addition, both lines caused the supervisory control and data acquisition system, or SCADA, to trigger pressure and suction alarms in the Enbridge Edmonton control center. SCADA is a system of complicated computer monitoring sensors up and down thousands of miles of Enbridge pipeline. Those sensors are constantly measuring various values, including pressure and suction in the line, sending thousands of readings into that control center an hour.

Another Michigan Messenger article explains some of the issues related to these pressure readings:

Richard Kuprewicz, an expert in oil pipeline safety with 40 years experience, says that the thicker viscosity of the tar sands oil and the use of diluents to thin it out for pipeline transport also create frequent pressure warnings in the pipeline monitoring system, false positives that can make it more difficult to detect a real pressure problem in the pipe, which can indicate a leak.

There were further similarities:

There were also warning signs of possible trouble before each incident. Prior to both spills, inline testing of the pipes indicated weak spots in the line. In Minnesota, the testing indicated a crack that was not substantial enough to set off red flags. In Michigan’s case, the EPA had warned Enbridge of corrosion issues in the same pipeline and the company was asking for more time to correct them.

But Kuprewicz says there is a “95 percent probability” the line did not rupture as a result of corrosion, at least based on the initial information available, particularly the location of the rupture. Officials have said the rupture was located at the three o’clock position on the 30 inch pipe, and Kuprewicz says corrosion-induced ruptures are almost always at the bottom of the pipe. . .

Finally, each rupture produced what Kuprewicz identified as “fish mouth” rupture holes. Those rupture images are a telltale sign of a pressure fracture or seam blow out, he said. But defining the cause will require detailed metallurgical analysis of the pipelines. In the case of the 2002 rupture, the determination was made that the rupture happened as the result of a stress fracture that began when the steel pipeline was loaded for its trip to Minnesota in 1967.

“[Fish mouth] ruptures are typical, but the initiating failure could be different,” Kuprewicz said.

Photo of seam rupture in line 4 in Minnesota in 2002 (Photo by NTSB)

The full report on the Minnesota spill can be found at this PDF.

Paul Austik reports in 24/7 Wall Street that the "service life of a pipeline is typically judged to be about 30-40 years". I don't know whether this is true for all pipelines, but the amount of corrosion found would seem to suggest the pipeline was approaching the end of its normal lifetime. While the graph shown at the top shows a decline in corrosion related spills, this decline seems to be primarily driven by a decline in spills caused by external factors--someone hitting a pipeline while digging, for example. Spills related to internal corrosion seem to bounce around, but are closer to flat.

The Oil Drum has readers with quite varied experience, who can perhaps offer their insights. In this particular instance, it appears that a seam burst, in an older pipeline that was carrying very viscous oil from the oil sands (among other types of liquids), and that monitoring alarms didn't work well, because there were a lot of false positives related to the very viscous oil being transported. Since the pipeline was in a marsh, it may have been flexed more than usual, as water levels changed. It will be interesting to see what the government report concludes. Even the limited reports to date seem to suggest caution in sending very viscous oil through very old pipelines, and perhaps the need for new standards in this regard.

Oil Spill Map

Map thanks to reader QuantumUS, from the Detroit News

Have you seen the little piggies playing in the dirt? Could a pig not have 'rooted' this out? I hope the South Park parody does not offend, I believe it is still Harrison singing.

It was pigging that had identified the anomalies that Enbridge was in the midst of correcting. But there was nothing identified in the part of the pipeline where the rupture occurred, so no corrective action was planned there.

The same thing happened in Minnesota. Pigging did not identify the problem.

Is there a gamma ray pig, similar to radiograph tests? Are radiographs done on these pipelines when they are certified? Let me guess they all look the same like in the 'China Syndrome'. Gosh, it sounds like a Godzilla reference 'gamma ray pig'.

Edit: How are these pipes made? Extrusion? Do they have any seams? Does the failure occur along that seam. Hot rolled? Cold rolled?

There are two types of steel pipe, one is seamless and another has a single welded seam along its length. Both have different uses. Seamless tubes are typically more light weight, and have thinner walls. They are used for bicycles and transporting liquids. Seamed tubes are heavier and more rigid. The have a better consistency and are typically straighter. They are used for things such as gas transportation, electrical conduit and plumbing. Typically, they are used in instances when the pipe is not put under a high degree of stress.

Read more: How steel pipe is made - material, manufacture, making, history, used, processing, steps, product, industry, machine, History, Design, Raw Materials, The Manufacturing Process of steel pipe

Clearly these pipes have seams. They are made using whatever technology was used over 40 years ago.

This is a problem with a lot of our infrastructure -- bridges, water and sewer pipes, and electrical transmission, for example. Much of it is quite old, and made with the technology of many years ago. It is expensive to replace, so it doesn't get replaced unless it is reaching failure mode.

I actually think this is vertically cast 'seamless pipe'. I was suspecting none of the things I mentioned were ever done on that line. A more advanced pig could help. What were they using on Macondo 'gamma ray imaging device'? At the very least, I would not allow old untested pipe through or near major rivers. I understand a shutdown system was not working either. What a game of 'Monkey Football'.

Edit: 1967 I should have said hot rolled seamless pipe. Misunderstood the time frame.

TFHG: This pipe is rolled and welded at the seam by the submerged arc welding process. I believe they use seamless pipe when they have to bend the pipe in order to make a turn in direction.

Slipping, rtfa it tells you in there ;)

Re-pipes, not a pipe but you might like this example of forming metal


Interesting, but I had always thought aluminum as often worked cold. I picture the following link as the process for this 1969 steel pipe. What do you think of my helical fiber optic idea?

Edit: or maybe

Gail, I worked in water treatment in San Diego. One water plant(Alvarado) had fifty year old piping carrying liquid chlorine and we could always smell chlorine. I'd leave the exhaust fans on to vent to the atmosphere. Another plant(Miramar) at twenty-five years old was in the same condition.
The third plant (Lower Otay) was the oldest in the western US(1914)and was later rebuilt 3X to modernize operations. By 1995 it was automated with many sensors and alarms. There was still an aging 54 inch transmission line that burst that spilled 20-30 MGD of water 'till the plant operator knew of the leak after five or six hours.
Anyway, San Diego: poster child of water and sewer line breaks.

I have been doing independent research on the dispersion of solutes in groundwater basins recently, including ideas such as the effects of fractured regions.

One thing that I have noticed is that the models are way too complicated and much better agreement is available with simple entropy arguments.
The following data is from "A parameter identifiability study of two chalk tracer tests" S. A. Mathias et al. It shows the amount of tracer solute measured at a "downstream" location from the injection point.

One of the big issues is how to effectively model the fat tails on these curves. The red dotted curve is my model which assumes only a max velocity and an average, with a diffusion constant added to the mix. As usual, many of the scientists and academics working this area make things way too complicated. Nature is entropic and disordered and that is really all you need to know.

This has applicability to fracing and groundwater spills I imagine. I will be writing more on this on my blog or here on TOD if people are interested.

And how would this would have helped find the bad pipe? I do not care if we are off topic, just making sure I wasn't missing a point that is obvious to you & others.

I don't know. Ever since the gulf spill everyone here seems to enjoy being the troubleshooter and trying to fix or reverse engineer individual incidents. I face up to the reality that bad stuff happens occasionally happens because humans are involved. To me its more interesting to understand how nature deals with it on its own. There are at least a few readers who share my view.

Hey, maybe you will find some kind of Golden Ratio as it pertains to progressive failures. Keep us posted.

I think I see what you mean in that certain simple behaviours seem to show up again and again in seemingly unrelated physical phenomenon.

Like I said, I am more of the mind of reducing complexity because my career does not depend on keeping things as abstruse as possible. And by abstruse I meant to use a word that you have to look up to see what it means. :)

I am curious your take on some things, WebHubbleTelescope.

1. Geomagnetically induced electro-hydrodynamic effects in pipelines

From Wikipedia:

" GIC are one possible consequence of geomagnetic storms, which may also affect geophysical exploration surveys and oil and gas drilling operations. "

" Rapidly fluctuating geomagnetic fields can produce geomagnetically induced currents in pipelines. This can cause multiple problems for pipeline engineers. Flow meters in the pipeline can transmit erroneous flow information, and the corrosion rate of the pipeline is dramatically increased "

From the Space Weather Prediction Center :

" Other systems: pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps ."

...just out of curiosity...have you ever cross-referenced geomagnetic storm events against records of oil and gas transfer accident records...?...just a thought.


2. Hydrogen embrittlement( sulfide stress cracking )


3. Cathodic protection of pipelines

Thanks, and happy Sunday to you all.

I don't have any particular view on specific modes of failures but the general idea of failing behavior is that it follows a bathtub curve. More failures are seen both early on and later on in a components life-cycle due to variations in structures and wear rates. I do have some intuitive ideas of how to model this behavior which adds to the purely heuristic ideas of applying the Weibull curve:

Again, this is all based on entropy considerations and the variability that humans are not able to control.

Cool blog, have you ever read any of Fangil Gareev's works ? I think you might find them interesting. Just a thought.

If you have to bring up WTC and Chernobyl collapse to sell a theory, it seems a bit suspicious.

We postulate that LENR can lead to catastrophes, potentially including, the runaway evcnt involving the reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the explosion of the twin towers during the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center collapse, in New York, the explosion of transformers in Moscow, catastrophes of submarines, and other phenomena associated with a cooperative resonance synchronization mechanism.

I can perhaps shed some light on the Minnesota release, as I was working on the looping project that was ongoing along line 4's ROW. I remember the day of the day of the leak well.
The leak occurred in a section of the ROW that is a saturated wetland, so to get access using heavy equipment, a timber mat road was put in so the equipment won't sink. At some point, the construction activity in the area jostled the old pipeline enough to cause the spill.

Line 4 is an interesting line. There are several places in N. Minnesota where the line is above ground, just laying on the surface.

Very interesting! So you are saying the Minnesota pipeline was above ground, in the saturated wetland, and just jostling it was enough to cause a spill? Or was the pipeline underground at that location, and the problem that the wet ground transmitted every bit of disturbance?

I know the Michigan situation was also involved a wetland. Was the pipeline above or below ground there?

In "less developed" countries, most (all?) of the pipeline is above ground. There are a lot of spills, partly because it is above the surface, and partly because so many people want to steal the oil.

I didn't realize that there are pipelines above ground in the US, though.

Virtually all of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is above ground. If the pipeline were all buried it would melt the permafrost, causing a huge engineering challenge to overcome.

In the location of the Minnesota leak, the pipeline was underground in a saturated wetland. Another pipeline (the loop) was being installed alongside line 4, so that's a fairly large amount of disturbance that's taking place relatively close to the older line (I can't recall the exact distance) in an already unstable medium. It could have been as simple as the contractor nicking the older line with a trackhoe shovel, but I don't remember any conclusive evidence of that occurring, and the spill was not noticed until the following morning. Here's an interesting thought... I believe that it is common practice (either industry reg or company policy) to power down active lines to half the normal pressure while construction is occurring on a shared ROW. What I'm not sure about is wether or not they power back up to full pressure in the evening, but this certainly could have exacerbated the Minnesota leak, and could be the reason why the spill wasn't discovered until the following morning.
As far as the Michigan situation is concerned, I don't believe there was any active construction, but it seems there had been some line testing recently which would necessitate line pressure changes which would change the "flexing" along the line and could cause a blow out in older pipe. It could also have been caused by the normal freeze/thaw cycle of the wetland shifting the pipeline.
I don't know if the Michigan pipeline is above or below surface. The sections in Minnesota that are above ground were "grandfathered" in to (DOT?) compliance, and as a stipulation, must be covered with soil. So, basically you have a pipeline sitting on the surface (partially) covered with dirt. It's an odd sight, and in many places creates an effective berm that wreaks havoc on the surface hydrology.


The official report of the Minnesota accident. It talks about about pipe movement on February 5, 2002, of the type you describe, but the spill it describes did not occur until July 4, 2002. The reason given for the failure was a transportation accident of the pipe many years earlier, that lead to a fatigue crack along a longitudinal seam well. According to the report, "Hydrostatic pressure testing and an in-line inspection tool specifically designed to find cracks did not detect the crack before failure."

Among other things, the report says,

The fracture surfaces of the fatigue crack in the accident pipe had multiple arrest lines and other indications of progressive cracking starting from the inside surface of the pipe wall. There were two regions paralleling the inside surface; the region next to the pipe wall was darkened and oxidized and contained multiple crack initiation sites. The adjacent region where the crack extended further into the pipe wall was lighter and cleaner, exhibiting little or no oxidation. The oxidation found in the darkened region most likely occurred while the faces of the fatigue crack were exposed to the atmosphere before the pipe was placed in service. The lighter region indicates that the fatigue crack grew while oil was protecting the crack surfaces from oxidation.

It report does not give the cause you mention. It also does not mention that very heavy oil was being transported at the time.

VJT recently provided new digital radiography systems to support the Alaskan North Slope Critical Pipeline Inspection during 2008. British Petroleum's (BPXA) North Slope Oil Exploration operations have completed a critical pipeline integrity survey with the technical expertise of VJT tech crews. VJ Technologies developed a new pipeline crawler in 2008, capable of providing 360° radiographic views of pipelines.


In the video on the link I noticed that you had to have access to both sides of the pipe to radiograph it. I think this comes down to some kind of pigging technology that performs a 'radiograph' level of inspection without having to dig the pipe up. Probably a HUGE engineering challenge given the dangers of gamma rays and the nature of those rays. Maybe some sort of MRI or hypersensitive thermal application would work. It would seem the current ultrasound technology is insufficient. I wonder if we have any pig engineers in the audience.

The picture sorta looks like the crack ran down about 1/2 to 1" from the weld, which would put it in the original heat affect zone. That and damage to the protective layer and too high of a cathodic current could have led to hydrogen embrittlement. Then, with a pressure spike, you could get a crack running down to at least the next pipe segment or until the pressure was releaved. (At least that's what I get off one so so picture.)Anyone with a better guess?

I've burned a lot of electrode, but not on pipelines-mostly I have done repair work, and getting it right involves understanding the nature of the structure.Otherwise you and your employer get to fix it again-for free, usually, on the employer's part.

That pipeline has expanded and contracted probably thousands of times partly due to shifting uses as different crude shipmernts at different temperatures went thru it, but much more so due to outside ambient temperature changes.It could have been under a great deal of intermittent induced stress for decades, and that is enough to induce cracking in most steels-I don't know about this type.

The fact that the crack ran parallel to the welded seam is no accident;the heat from the welding causes a relative hardening of the steel as it cools rapidly along the seam;boring a hole next to such a seam is very hard to do, compared to boring it farther away.

I generally insist on using a very pricey low hydrogen electrode on any work subject to such repetitive stresses,it helps a lot.

I doubt very seriously if such electrode was used when the pipe was manufactured.

The stress is focused along the edge of the hardened area, which is no longer as ductile or flexible or malleable as the rest of the pipe;breaks adjacent to welded seams are VERY COMMON in welding repair work.

It is impossible to judge accurately from looking at a photo, but the fish mouth effect seems to be quite pronounced.This indicates to me that the rupture must have occured almost explosively;else the pressure inside the pipe would have fallen off so fast the ruptured edges could not have been pushed out into the characteristic fish mouth pout to such an extent -UNLESS the pipe was in a compressive strain in the area that ruptured.You can verify this by experimenting with a large diameter plastic straw by cutting a slit twice as long as the diameter in it along the length and slowly bending it so that the slit is on the inner side of the bend, in the same plane;the slit will pout just like a spoiled daddy's little girl.

Another interesting point is that the crack appears to extend a considerable distance from the fish mouthed area-indicating to me that the metal was under a great deal of locked in stress relieved by the slight movement of the crack opening up.A picture of the pipe segment in situ would be very helpful-cutting it loose from the remainder of the pipline may have resulted in it's changing shape noticeably due to releasing static loads which might have been enormous;the pipe segment in place could have actually been BENT somewhat (like a spring) and if so it would have straightened itself when released .

The stress could have resulted from frost heave, or from construction work some distance away, or erosion under the pipe, or it's settling deeper into the marsh,or thermal expansion, or other causes .

Most of us have seen pictures of railroad tracks buckled by excessive heat.Pipes , if they are long enough, and not properly supported allowing the correct stress relieving movements, can buckle the same way.

Another possibility is that the electrode composition was different enough from the pipe alloy ( probably just carbon with MAYBE an intentional trace of other metal(s) such as copper or chromium or nickel)that a galvanic reaction could have occured along the seam area, thinning the metal and weakening it.I have seen failures of this nature due to highly localized corrosion adjacent to welds.

But I don't know how this plays out when the steel has a corrosion inhibiting current fed thru it.I haven't done any repair work on structures so equipped;large buildings and bridges use this technology, but welding on the structural steel in such a building, once it is finished, is a rare thing, and I never worked on bridges.

After forty years plus I'm suprised the pipeline is not as full of holes as a sifter bottom, considering that crude is supposed to be corrosive and the expected failure of the anti corrosion outer wrapper .

Remember Matt Simmons and what he said about rust never sleeping.

I read spomething written a few days ago by some cornucopian nut about Simmons and rust-ridiculing Simmons- someone who obviously knows nothing whatsoever about corrosion and metals.

Come to think of it, it might have been here.

Mac: Not real sure,but I would say the seam was welded with a mild steel electrode- 6010 perhaps- and when they fit the pipe ends together they probably ran a root pass with 5P and the rest with 7018. I think they had 7018 back then. I only had a structural welding certification and didn't get any pipe certs. Dont weld much any more since I got bi-focals! That's a younger man's game on pipeline work.

They could have used 7018 or something equivalent, and may have, if the specs called for it.I based my opinion on simply having looked at lots of old pipes-the seams, not the welds made by guys like you and me.

I am not a pipe specialist, and know nothing about oil field work, and should not have made the remark about a low hydrogen electrode not being used at the factory, as this is purely speculation on my part.

You are right about a 6010 pass, or maybe a couple of passes, followed by cover passes with 7018-this is pretty much sop where I have worked.

I had to get dedicated prescription "reading only" glasses a long time ago;I can still weld using them.

But there is no way I could keep up on an hourly job anymore.

You make an interesting point about pressure being a factor in pushing the fish mouth open as far as it did.

As far as I know, the pipeline was carrying different oils in the same pipeline, packed one after the other. The very viscous "Western Canadian Select" from Alberta was only one of these. The quick escape supposedly occurred a relatively low pressure. Could the combination of different oils (assuming I am correct in this understanding) play a role in this? I know there was discussion of the very viscous oil from Alberta setting off the pressure alarms frequently.

I have been thinking about this problem while riding my bicycle and I came up with a rehash of a moment of scientific inspiration. I remember the evolution of video tape and how an engineer at Ampex came up with the helical scanning process to allow an entire frame of video to be made on a tape that was not wide enough. I believe the engineer that proposed the workable solution was playing with his dog by spinning a ribbon at his nose. It made a helical shape and there you go.
That is my solution. A helically wrapped fiber optic line made of glass embedded in one of the wrappings of all new pipelines. The communications carrying capacity would pay for the additional costs and real time monitoring is a network function. It would propel the pipeline carriers into the data transport world. Any physical problems on the pipe would break the fiber resulting in instant notification and network engineers and the pipeline monitoring systems could share facilities to reduce costs.

What do you think? I think one way we could get pipeline companies to belly up and improve is with the promise of more revenue and new markets. A true win-win.

Fibre has been proposed for a number of structural monitoring purposes. ISTR there is an angle of wrap that minimises the length of a helical wrap on a pipe, used for the reinforcing of hoses and wrapping cylinders. Do you wrap the sections then have to field splice? Do you wrap the laid pipe? What happens when a section is replaced? How is the new fibre spliced in so it remains in tension?


Tension is not a big issue as the glass is inflexible as you need to design it. Some sort of field repair would be possible. Retrofitting existing pipes would be an issue, I would think that would be a harder proposition. I have fusion spliced fiber before, it is an easy process. I am thinking you could do it either way, with splices being made as needed.

Fusion splicers need enough free fibre to put in the machine, this will leave slack on the pipe. For the fibre to monitor the pipe it needs to be in tension, not slack, to detect the changes in the pipe.


You can put in service loops. There just needs to be a physical lock that can be tensioned by hand or small come-along. No different than current aerial fiber technology. As for the amount of tension needed, it is not that much. You are talking about tight enough to break a glass ribbon wound spirally around a steel tube. You could have a 'ribbon' cable with strands running across the width of the wrap to ensure better coverage. In order to save time and increase reliability, I am sure some type of prefabricated 'collar' that would ensure complete coverage of the junctions could be designed. There is even 'barrel' splices that are sometimes used as temporary connections for bypasses and repairs. You can always fuse in a new section.

Doesn't need to be tight enough to break the fibre but tight enough to be affected by strain, act like a strain gauge. Varying tension on the fibre changes the transmission property and you can tell what is happening to the pipe. A steady increase of strain would indicate that the pipe is expanding and may fail, you want to catch it before it does fail. A break in the fibre should be a oh oops moment. Can't figure out why they shouldn't have seen the pressure changes on the existing instrumentation though, that story about false alarms sounds like balony or the instrumentation is no good and they didn't want to spend money fixing it.


I think it is more of a 'neglect' issue. From what I understand, the pipeline industry is more of a 'lower' priority item until there is a problem. Like mining. The hydrocarbon and nuke folks take all the flak. I found an image of an aerial service loop. There is a subterranean version already on the market I am sure. Yes, there are limitless possibilities if you start wrapping pipes in glass. It just seems to make sense. I think this one could actually generate revenue and drive down Internet costs.

BIG fiber cable. Actually acrylic rod demo from

Edit: I wonder rather than traditional fiber cables if some sort of hardened polycarbonate resin would work. Like the gel in a submarine cable. Just use the whole outside surface of the pipeline in every direction. Any changes in position or structure should change the medium in a detectable way. NAOM is on to something there. A real time EEG or OTDR of the pipeline. It could potentially be the most capable data transmission network in the solar system. I know I need to put my hat back on. It would work, wouldn't it? Sort of a broad transmission medium for fiber optics. Lambda switch the whole operation. That is interesting. Do not wrap the pipe in glass, bathe it in light. That is a much better idea. Cheaper too. Either idea might have merit.


Edit again: With polycarbonates you could repair AND install the system in existing pipes. This keeps sounding better. Someone practical please bring me down. Like I know how polycarbonates react with hydrocarbons. Of course, we would find problems quickly.

I wonder if this stuff would work?

I just asked a friend of mine who lives a couple of blocks from the spill where the break was. She said the broken part was buried under a creek that fed the kalamazoo river.

Thanks! I added your map to the bottom of the post.

Here are some short messages from my friend she sent to me today.

It's so weird how this has overtaken everything going on here
it has been awful, but on the other hand has brought in an influx of spending like you can't believe

hub and I saw 4 airboats being towed on the road - lol. I said wow - you see those down south like in the bayous ........

Tonight when we went to Battle Creek - we had to take a detour cause of all the workers and booms - which I was surprised to se still going on - I waved and high fived the workers - and they waved back. LOL.... Everyone local here has been very receptive to the cleanup, and appreciate what they are doing

I think Enbridge has been on top and doing everything they can to rectify this, no hidden agendas or whatever

My impression is that they are doing a good job cleaning the oil up. The spill was down to a sheen a few days after the spill, and quite a lot of the spill never entered the waterway. They were trying to remove any vegetation that might have oil on it near the waterway, so that if there was a rain storm, the oil would not be washed into the creek. They also made an offer to buy up the houses in the area, at full value (list price if currently for sale).

One commentor referenced construction near a pipeline as leading to future failures. Another Enbridge ( pipeline, Vector ( was constructed in 2000 in the same 60' wide easement as the Lakehead line that broke. It was placed inside that ROW to somewhere near Parshallvillle, then switched to following a Michcon route, but not inside that ROW. I'm on the Michcon portion.

When the Vector pipe was built, the contractor scooped out the subsoil from the new trench and piled it on top of the Michcon line. After construction, the soil was scooped back into the trench and compacted. Could the 2000 Vector activity have altered the subsurface near the Lakehead pipe sufficiently (i.e. shifted rocks, slightly shifted the pipe, compressed soil toward the Lakehead pipe, etc.) to have led to the eventual failure near Marshall? If that is possible, how many more potential breaks are possible along this old pipe route where the Vector pipe was constructed so closely along side, and so many trouble spots in the pioe have already been identified?

Also, another Lakehead line broke in 1999 near Crystal Falls in the U.P. The oil entered a bog and penetrated the aquifer. Does anyone know if any similarities were found with that break and the current break? (Free Press, 11/12/99; The Crystal View, 11/10/99; and others)

Free Press article: "Company engineers believe the crack occurred because the steel pipe rested on a rock formation...Although the pipe moves very little during ordinary use, there may have been enuogh to stress the metal over time, causing the crack."

Any thoughts?

Free Press article: "Company engineers believe the crack occurred because the steel pipe rested on a rock formation...Although the pipe moves very little during ordinary use, there may have been enuogh to stress the metal over time, causing the crack."

Ex-civil engineer here. This sounds entirely plausible.

We always went to a lot of trouble to ensure our pipes rested on a deep enough bed of clean sieved sand. Soil tends to settle over time and if there is a rigid point under the pipe it can break its back.

Makes sense, if they didn't bed the pipe. I imagine the soil heaves quite a bit up there.

Mechanic-not an engineer, but I agree totally.

But a hard spot that wouldn't give under the pipe would also leave evidence of the contact on the bottom of the pipe-I expect the damage would be perfectly obvious even to a layman.

I have submitted my fiber optic transport and monitoring system for pipelines to the Michigan Pipeline Spill Response Team under proposal for pipeline monitoring. I will let you know how that submission turns out. I know it is a 'screwy' idea, but no harm in honest effort that is at least 'rooted' in science. The details always get you.

When I was a kid living near Rochester Michigan in 1968 there was a Sunoco pipeline running through the corner of our front yard. The only way you would normally know it was there were small signposts every 1/4 mile or so. It ran right through many residential neighborhoods. It was only buried about 6 feet deep.

We became more aware of the pipeline when MichCon (the local natural gas supplier) was excavating to provide gas service to newer houses further up the road. They had excavated by hand a huge hole around this pipeline, which was about 24 inches in diameter. They were digging a pipe trench perpendicular to the Sunoco pipe using a bucket wheel excavator about 8 feet in diameter. The operator of the excavator got a little too close to the big pit and the machine started to tip over into the pit. There were about 10 to 12 MichCon guys standing around, they all moved really fast to try to hold the machine up until the operator could back it up. They just barely kept the machine from hitting the pipe.

One of the MichCon guys told me the pipeline carried gasoline from somewhere in Illinois up to Sarnia, Ontario.

You never know just how close to death you can be, just a little more tip in that machine and our whole neighborhood would likely have been incinerated.

The pipeline crossed a local creek in a crude sand bridge that kept washing out. In the summer we would play in the creek but learned not to touch the pipe while in the water. You would get a definite sensation of electrical shock. I suppose this was the corrosion protection current. They eventually properly buried that section of pipe deep beneath the creek bed.

Looking at the maps of this Enbridge pipeline it must run a similar route to Sarnia. I don't think it's the same because the one by our house had to have been there before 1963.

How do they decommission these old lines? Do they just fill the pipe with some inert liquid like water or do they dig up the pipe? I wonder about that.

a2: And you never do know. Sure glad those fellers were there for counter weight though!

My question would be, "Do they decommission old pipelines?" I would think for water and sewer, they would just put new pipelines nearby. For oil and natural gas, I would be interested if anyone knows. I could ask API. They are always very willing to answer questions.

My guess was hide and run but I hope I am being cynical. I am interested in the real data too. I know there are EPA funds for 'orphaned' systems. I will research.

From what I saw in rural Ohio, simply (thoroughly) drain the pipe and leave it, both for crude oil and natural gas. They would lay in a new line nearby if the old is leaky and still needed a line.

I work for one of the "pigging" companies that inspected this pipeline prior to its failure. I don't know much more than the rest of you, but I'll share what I can.

A pipeline can fail in a number of ways, and different types of pigs are needed to inspect pipelines for different types of damage. Our company performed a geometry pig inspection (to detect dents) approximately 1 year prior to the pipeline's failure. Other companies were contracted to perform the Magnetic Flux Leakage pigging (to detect corrosion) and Ultrasonic Pigging (to detect cracks).

Judging by the picture up top, this failure was the result of a crack along the longitudinal weld. This would only be detectable by the Ultrasonic crack detection pig. Unfortunately, this was performed by a different company and I know nothing of the inspection results, as that information is strictly proprietary.

As for the cause of the failure, I am as much in the dark as the rest of you. Enbridge has been very tight-lipped about this whole affair and has divulged very little information to us. I do know that most pipeline ruptures are caused by mechanical damage (for example, by impact from a backhoe). I also know that it is almost impossible for human error on the inspector's part to be responsible. A catastrophic defect in a pipe is so obvious that I cannot fathom how any team of inspectors could possibly overlook it.

I am not experienced in ultrasonic crack detection pigging, so I will not speak to the accuracy of the tools. Perhaps this crack somehow appeared smaller than it really was? There are laws regarding the timely replacement of damaged sections of pipe, so if they knew the crack was this severe, they would have replaced it immediately.

There will be a thorough investigation and I'm eager to hear the results. I do feel sorry for whoever will inevitably be scapegoated for this disaster, given the current political attitude towards oil leaks. Pipelines rupture every year, despite the best efforts of thousands of dedicated maintenance professionals. I hope no one loses their job unfairly for the sake of a politician who wants to appear "tough" on polluters.