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Wisconsin Oil Spill: Feds Block Enbridge From Re-Opening Pipeline

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An energy transportation company can't reopen a pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil in Wisconsin last week until it hands federal officials a re-start plan.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced Tuesday it has blocked Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners from reopening the 427-mile line. Administration officials must approve a re-start plan that establishes leak patrols and details coordination with local emergency workers before the company can resume operations.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that he plans to meet with company officials soon. They'll have to convince him why the pipeline should continue to operate without an overhaul or complete replacement, he said.

"Pipelines operate safely across the country every single day," LaHood said. "That's why accidents, like the one in Wisconsin, are absolutely unacceptable."

Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an email repairs to the pipeline should be done by Thursday and the company is preparing a re-start plan.

"The safety of people who live and work near our pipelines and the environment is Enbridge's top priority," she said.

Enbridge officials didn't immediately respond to telephone and email messages Tuesday.

The pipeline carries crude oil from Superior to Chicago-area refineries. It ruptured Friday, spraying about 1,200 barrels, or about 50,400 gallons, of crude into a pasture just east of Grand Marsh in Adams County. The cause of the spill is still unknown.

Enbridge officials said the spill was quickly contained and no one was hurt.

State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ed Culhane said the pasture's owner and his wife, as well as a woman, her daughter and her mother were evacuated from two homes near the rupture because the air was full of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer. Some cattle and horses also had to be rinsed off, he said.

The company managed to vacuum up between 12,600 and 21,000 gallons, Culhane said. The pasture doesn't have any surface water, he said, and no wildlife was affected. The company is currently working to skim off the contaminated soil and dispose of it and the company's contractors are beginning to test ground water for contamination, he said.

The pipeline safety administration issued a nine-page order requiring Enbridge to submit the re-start plan. The order also calls for additional corrective measures, saying the line crosses multiple rivers, highways and population centers.

The requirements include completing an analysis of the failed pipe; contracting with an independent operator to evaluate the company's procedures, maintenance history and repair decisions; submitting a plan for long-term testing on the line; and submitting monthly reports on testing and repairs.

The order also questioned the company's pipeline integrity program, noting tests performed during the pipeline's construction in 1998 revealed defects in seams in multiple locations and that the pipeline ruptured in January 2007, spilling 63,000 gallons of crude in Clark County.

Little, the company's spokeswoman, said it's not unusual for the administration to issue such an order and the company is already working on complying.

Another Enbridge pipeline ruptured in July 2010, spilling more than 840,000 gallons of crude near Marshall, Mich.

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