EPA fines Enbridge $6.7 million for safety violations, reporting delays

The violations stem from a consent degree formed after an oil spill in Michigan. The company maintains "there were never any safety issues with the pipelines involved."

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A crew works in a 10-foot hole along Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline near Bemidji. The pipeline had external corrosion and was being repaired with a "sleeve." (Forum News Service file photo)

DULUTH -- The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Enbridge Energy $6.7 million after it said the company "failed" to fix dents in pipelines and had numerous delays reporting issues along its mainline route of oil pipelines to the federal agency.

The $6.7 million total was agreed upon by the EPA and Enbridge last month as a settlement to alleged violations of a consent decree it signed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 after the company's Line 6B pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Approximately $3 million of the fines came after Enbridge "failed to excavate and repair or mitigate shallow dents with indications of metal loss, cracking, or stress risers" along its Lakehead System across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a May 8 letter sent to Enbridge by Matthew Russo, assistant region council for the EPA office in Chicago.

Most of the issues with dents were reported along Line 1, which was built in 1950, Enbridge said Thursday. Line 1 stretches from Edmonton to Superior and carries 237,000 barrels, or 9.95 million gallons, of oil per day. It is one of six pipelines following the same corridor across northern Minnesota.

"EPA identified numerous instances in which Enbridge failed to comply in a timely manner with Consent Decree provisions relating to certain intersecting or interacting features on Lakehead System pipelines. More specifically, Enbridge failed to complete timely identification and evaluation of thousands of 'shallow dent' features on Lakehead System pipelines to determine whether such dents met dig selection criteria," Russo wrote.


Mike Koby, Enbridge's vice president for U.S. liquids operations, told reporters in a conference call Thursday afternoon, that "there were never any safety issues with the pipelines involved."

Koby characterized it as "a disagreement between Enbridge and the EPA regarding how we assess shallow dents under the consent decree," and added that there is not a standard industry definition of "shallow dents" nor was it defined in the consent decree.

The remaining $3.7 million in fines came from what the EPA said were "several instances in which Enbridge failed to comply in a timely manner with certain requirements."

Koby said the missed deadlines were "largely administrative in nature."


Enbridge responded to a letter from the EPA outlining the fines with reasons for the delays:

  • $78,750 for being 21 days late in adding three Line 4 crack features to the dig list. Enbridge said "administrative oversight led to the delay."

  • $100,800 for being 8 days late in recalculating the pressure restrictions for seven features on Line 6A. Enbridge said this was an administrative delay.

  • $1,701,000 for being 240 days late in adding three Line 6A corrosion features to the dig list. Enbridge said it used vapor corrosion inhibitor injections, which the consent decree doesn't "expressly allow," instead of excavation and that the feature "was reasonably mitigated" from its perspective. Enbridge said excavations were all completed within consent decree timelines once the features were added to the dig list and "there was no delay in the ultimate repair of the feature."

  • $1,011,600 for being 238 days late in determining a pressure restriction for one corrosion feature on Line 6A. Enbridge said the feature was mitigated by the vapor corrosion inhibitor mentioned above and that it had a "more restrictive discharge pressure restriction already in place."

  • $6,000 for being 3 days late in completing the threat integration for a Line 3 segment. Enbridge said it was an "administrative error" and no other related deadlines were effected.

  • $799,000 for a 173-day outage of the 24-hour alarm capability on a Line 67 segment. Enbridge said its other safety systems were in place and 24-hour alarms cover all other segments of Line 67 during that time.

The Department of Justice and Enbridge signed the consent decree in 2017 as part of a $177 million settlement to the Kalamazoo oil spill . Enbridge was fined $1.8 million in 2018 after it "did not meet the requirements" in the consent decree for inspections along Line 2, Line 3 and Line 4.

Enbridge is looking to replace the existing Line 3 with a new pipeline that would increase existing capacity and follow a new route through much of the state. but the project faces numerous delays and legal challenges.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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