04 August 2010

Law group aims to sue Enbridge over Michigan oil spill

The Detroit Free Press

A Michigan-based environmental law group said today it plans to sue Enbridge Energy Partners over last week’s oil spill into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, claiming financial penalties against the company could run into the millions of dollars.

Enbridge declined to comment on the potential lawsuit.

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, a group of environmental lawyers based in Detroit, issued a 60-day notice of intent to file a citizen suit against Enbridge in connection with the spill as required under the Clean Water Act, sending the notice to the company, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Enbridge reported the spill along Line 6B of its Lakehead System last Monday, saying some 19,500 barrels – about 820,000 gallons – had spilled. Some estimates have put the spill at as much as 1 million gallons.

The federal Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of hazardous substances into the nation’s navigable waters, subject to a civil penalty of $32,500 a day or up to $1,100 per barrel of oil, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

Using the company’s estimate, that could equate to a fine of nearly $21.5 million. The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center also notes that in cases of gross negligence, the fine can reach $4,300 a barrel.

Nick Schroeck, the law center’s executive director, said any money levied against a company for a spill is typically kept by the federal or, in some cases, the state government to help pay for clean up costs or mitigate future incidents.

The law requires the parties to be notified 60 days in advance of a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. During that time, law center staff said they “would be willing to discuss effective remedies for the violations in this letter and settlement terms.”

Also today, a couple living along the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek filed a federal class action complaint against Enbridge. Eugene and Gloria Volstromer claim that there was an “unreasonably delay” in reporting the spill and that residents have been forced to flee the area, “due to unbearable environmental conditions, including noxious air and the lack of suitable drinking water.”

The Battle Creek Enquirer reported Sunday that Gloria Volstromer went to the hospital on Saturday complaining of a rash, headache and upset stomach, “symptoms of overexposure to benzene.” In the complaint, the couple said testing showed benzene in the air after the spill.

The complaint asked for a jury trial and the award of damages though no amount was specified.

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