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Enbridge Could Face Millions In Penalties For Failing To Report Spill In Fort Atkinson

A Leak On Enbridge's Line 13 Pipeline Went Unreported For More Than A Year

An Enbridge post marks the Line 61 corridor in a field in Marshall, Wisconsin.
An Enbridge post marks the Line 61 corridor near Keith Reopelle’s property in Marshall, Wisconsin. Bridgit Bowden/WPR

Canadian firm Enbridge, Inc. could face millions of dollars in fines after the company failed to report a leak on one of its oil pipelines in Jefferson County for more than a year.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is alleging Enbridge violated Wisconsin’s spills law for not promptly reporting a release that occurred on its Line 13 pipeline April 26, 2019, in Fort Atkinson. The 20-inch pipeline runs from Manhattan, Illinois, through Wisconsin to Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta.

State law requires entities to immediately report discharges of hazardous substances by calling the DNR’s 24-hour hotline.

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“Enbridge failed to report the hazardous substance discharge to the department until July 31, 2020,” wrote the agency in an April 27 letter.

Up to 1,386 gallons of diluent liquids leaked from the pipeline, contaminating groundwater and soil in the area. Enbridge said the substance is similar to camping fuel and is used to thin out heavy crude oil carried through the company’s pipelines.

The DNR has set an environmental enforcement conference to discuss the matter with Enbridge on May 17. The agency said any enforcement action would be based upon available information if the company does not attend.

Enbridge could be referred to the state Department of Justice or face monetary penalties of up to $5,000 per day.

Enbridge said it initially believed the release was below the federal and state reporting threshold for spills, but the DNR has said any amount of discharge must be reported to the state regardless of the amount.

“Enbridge has been actively working with the DNR on a supplemental site investigation. The release is contained within close proximity to the leak source,” said Enbridge spokeperson Juli Kellner in a statement. “As an additional precaution, we have sampled residential wells in the area and lab results show no indications of hydrocarbon. Groundwater monitoring of the site is ongoing.”

Sampling by an Enbridge consultant of 15 drinking water wells found no levels of volatile organic compounds like benzene above laboratory limits, according to documents filed with the DNR.

Enbridge conducted 27 soil borings and installed temporary monitoring wells as part of an investigation into the spill, which prompted the company to install eight permanent wells. Their findings showed benzene concentrations in groundwater samples near the site went beyond the state’s enforcement standard in an area extending from beneath the source to roughly 225 feet to the southeast.

The plume appears to still be moving slowly — less than a foot per day — toward the Rock River, which is roughly a half-mile away. Homes and farm buildings are also located within 1,200 feet of the site, but they don’t appear to be in the path of the plume.

Enbridge said it’s continuing to work with the DNR, landowners and community leaders as they clean up the spill.