Enbridge denies responsibility for oil spill | Michigan Messenger

Enbridge denies responsibility for oil spill | Michigan Messenger.

Enbridge denies responsibility for oil spill

Refuses to pay some claims of property damage, business loss, health problems
By Eartha Jane Melzer | 01.31.11 | 8:22 am

Despite public promises to compensate residents for losses associated with the summer oil spill, in Calhoun county court Enbridge is arguing that it is not legally liable for damages from the spill.

Last July a pipeline rupture on Enbridge’s 6B pipeline spilled an estimated million gallons of Canadian tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River system. The oil traveled 30 miles down the rain-swollen river, coating the floodplain.

Officials declared a state of emergency, recommended evacuation because of unsafe levels of benzene in the air, and closed the Kalamazoo River to all activity by the public.

In numerous public statements Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels apologized for the spill and promised to take responsibility for the cleanup and address the needs of the affected people and businesses.

But six months after the spill, the river remains closed and some residents have not been able to get compensation through the claims process set up by the company.

Attorney Bill Mayhall represents 10 households in Marshall and Battle Creek that were not able to find satisfactory arrangements with the pipeline company for property damages and health issues such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory issues.

These clients are accusing Enbridge of nuisance and negligence for failing to adequately maintain its pipeline and are seeking damages in Calhoun Circuit Court.

Enbridge is fighting the claims. The company has retained Dickinson Wright attorneys Kathleen Lang and Edward Pappas — the same team that is defending Dow Chemical against a class action suit over dioxin contamination in the Saginaw River watershed — and its answer to the legal claims sounds very different from the friendly promises offered by Daniels at community forums.

In the days after the spill Enbridge representatives went door to door promising that they would pay for spill damages, Mayhall said.

“Now they want us to prove that they are responsible for the spill.”

Enbridge argues that it cannot be held liable for the oil spill because it has followed all relevant laws, regulations and industry standards and the damage was not foreseeable.

The company also argues that the charges against it are improper “because federal, state and/or local authorities and agencies have mandated, directed, approved and/or ratified the alleged actions or omissions.”

And though Enbridge repeatedly told residents it would pay all legitimate expenses, in filings with the Calhoun court the company says:

“The statements at issue, that were made in Defendants’ press releases and brochure, were mere expressions of intention, not offers.”

The owners of the Play Care Learning Center in Marshall are suing Enbridge for interfering with their daycare business, which was located a half mile from the spill site.

Play Care, represented attorney Donnelly Hadden, says that they were forced to close their business when parents pulled their kids out of care because of the air pollution from the spill.

Play Care argues that Enbridge failed to maintain its pipeline and failed to adequately protect them against a long list of chemicals related to the contamination.

In an answer to this lawsuit Enbridge argues that the day care center can’t know what chemicals it was exposed to because no one knows what chemicals were released during the oil spill.

“Defendants state that different types of oil contain different constituents and substances in varying quantities and that the investigation of the nature and extent of the crude oil discharged is ongoing,” the response said.

“It is time for Enbridge to state in court if they really meant what they said to those injured by the spill,” said Mayhall, “or whether their statements to pay legitimate damages were simply a public relations ploy to calm community anger.”

Enbridge Spokeswoman Terri Larson said that the company “remains committed to paying all non-fraudulent claims that are directly related to the incident.”

A schedule for the cases is expected to be set at a conference on March 7.


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