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Enbridge employees practice spill response

Enbridge employees participate in an exercise that simulated an oil spill in the Souris River on Wednesday in Towner, N.D. If it had been an actual spill, the workers would have been skimming the oil off the river. (Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service)

Amy Dalrymple

Forum News Service

TOWNER, N.D. – Enbridge employees simulated a worst-case scenario last week to practice how they would respond to an oil spill in the Souris River.

The simulated exercise that employees learned of at 10 a.m. Tuesday was that an excavator struck one of Enbridge’s crude oil pipelines and released 800 barrels – or 33,600 gallons – of oil into the Souris River near Towner.

Another 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of oil released onto farm fields adjacent to the river, under the practice scenario.

About 100 Enbridge employees participated in the full-scale exercise Tuesday and Wednesday that included a team of responders at an incident command center in Minot and others deploying equipment in the river that would be used to contain an actual spill.

"We want to make sure that we operate our pipeline in the safest manner possible and if something happens, we’re able to respond," said Art Haskins, emergency response coordinator for the North Dakota region of Enbridge.

Workers at the scene northwest of Towner practiced with equipment that’s used to skim oil off the top of water. They also deployed containment booms that would prevent the spill from getting farther downstream.

Enbridge, the company proposing the Sandpiper pipeline, routinely does these types of drills on all of its pipelines, officials said.

That project to pipe oil from Tioga, N.D., to Superior, has been met with concerns from Minnesotans who fear an oil spill in the state’s northern lakes.

Enbridge has never had an oil spill in North Dakota like the one they practiced for this week, Haskins said. However, a pipeline leak in an Enbridge line in Michigan spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

In North Dakota, employees do about 19 drills per year, and a full-scale exercise like this event every three years, Haskins said.

"The more you practice, the better that you’re going to respond to that emergency," Haskins said.

Local first responders, including sheriffs and firefighters, as well as the North Dakota Department of Health, Environmental Protection Agency and local emergency managers also observed or participated in the exercise.

"An emergency is not the time to meet somebody," Haskins said. "We want to meet them before this happens so that when something does happen that we’re ready and prepared to work with them."

Mountrail County Emergency Manager Don Longmuir, who responded to a 20,600-barrel oil spill that resulted from a pipeline break near Tioga in 2013, said he was impressed with the exercise.

"It was reassuring to see how well trained and ready Enbridge is if something would happen," Longmuir said.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates major crude oil pipelines like the ones Enbridge operates, requires a certain number of drills each year, which Enbridge officials said they exceed.

Rep. Larry Bellew, R-Minot, was among those who toured the simulation site Wednesday.

"I just want to see how it works if there was a real-life emergency how Enbridge would respond," Bellew said. "It’s nice that they’re prepared."