FOIA Friday: Michigan oil pipeline spill map and safety information
Petroleum Pipeline warning symbol
The wheels of far-off bureaucracies are also spinning into action, and this week's FOIA Friday focuses on public records available from PHMSA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. This organization keeps track of the nation's oil and gas pipeline infrastructure, and its monitoring and enforcement systems provide a trail of information and some maps about incidents relevant to the residents of Washtenaw County who should be aware that a piece of the Enbridge system runs right down the western edge of the county through Pleasant Lake.
Essential to the understanding of any problem is a good map. I will illustrate with maps of the petroleum pipeline owned by Enbridge that runs from Stockbridge to Samaria to Toledo, known internally at Enbridge as "Line 17".
National Pipeline Mapping System
The National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) is run by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is in turn part of the US Department of Transportation (DOT).
An additional mapping system known as PIMMA is available to emergency managers. in the 2008 article U.S. DOT Provides Secure Access to the Nation's Pipeline Data with GIS Claiborne Ashby, NPMS Project Manager, writes:
In 2001, Baker developed an ArcIMS Web site called the Pipeline Integrity Management Mapping Application (PIMMA) to share NPMS data with the general public. However, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, PHMSA conducted a data security review in conjunction with other federal agencies and decided to provide only limited public access to NPMS data. From September 2001 until April 2007, PIMMA had only been accessible to federal, state, and local government agencies and pipeline operators.
The Public Map Viewer for pipeline maps is a limited version of the full PIMMA application. Information cannot be downloaded, and the resolution of maps is 1:24,000 available one county at a time. Missing from the public view is information key to emergency management, such as where water resources are at risk, including details of "high-consequence areas (HCAs)", which include sensitive ecological and drinking water areas.
Pipeline safety information is held in a system called PRIMIS, also run by PHMSA.
Reporting is available on a number of levels, including a handy breakout by state. The Michigan pipeline safety page has lots of summary statistics, like pipeline mileage by county. Washtenaw County has 268 miles of gas pipelines and 99 miles of liquid pipelines, representing 3 percent of the state's total mileage.
The safety reporting includes summary reporting by operator. This chart of Michigan hazardous liquid spills, 2000-2009, lists two incidents on the Enbridge Toledo line. In February 2003, 130 barrels of hazardous liquids were spilled at Samaria due to "natural force damage" caused by temperature extremes. An April 2006 coupler failure in Britton led to a 25 barrel spill.
Pipeline safety enforcement
PMHSA is also in charge of pipeline safety enforcement. The agency's latest relevant action is the Corrective Action Order (PDF) of July 28, 2010, which specifies that the line between Marshall and Stockbridge shall not be restarted until a number of safety conditions are met.
When pipeline spills are bad enough, the National Transporation Safety Board gets involved in the after-accident review. This NTSB analysis of an Enbridge spill in North Dakota in 2004 is an example.
FOIA and the spill
Nothing described so far has required the FOIA process to work, but there are unanswered questions with which FOIA requests might help.
Some portion of the timeline as to the exact events of the spill, including the time when a leak was first identified by first responders, is unclear at this point. A request for 911 call logs from the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office Support Services could make the initial timeline more clear.
Edward Vielmetti writes the FOIA Friday column for AnnArbor.com . Reach him at 734-330-2465.