Flooding and Pipeline Safety

This past week saw a flood in the St. Croix watershed.  The Upper Tamarack rose to the steps of the shack, and there is even evidence of it having run under the building which sits on cinder blocks.  There is standing water in the field below the hut and along one of the paths along the river.  It looks like our little cabin is sitting much further down the watershed in a Louisiana backwater swamp rather than along a north woods river.  All-in-all we escaped significant damage and loss.  We may have lost a gas can and a set of stairs.  It’s remarkable that the shack, sitting less than 60 feet from, and 4 feet above, the river for almost 50 years, has never been flooded.

However, the washouts of bridges and roads that occurred as a result of this week’s rains raises concern about the integrity of the Enbridge pipelines.  That’s especially so after having paddled the Totogatic and seen the pipeline crossing on that stream.  At that point the river is contained by steep banks and is narrowed into a funnel to flow under a railroad trestle.  When I visited there was already evidence of erosion at the bottom of the bank.  I imagine the currents there could be wicked during a flood.

It makes me wonder – I have to wonder because there are no regulations or required reporting – what steps Enbridge takes during events like this.  Have crossings been assessed and prioritized for responding in emergencies?  What types of responses does the company take during the flood – enhanced monitoring [e.g., on-site visual inspection] or preventative action [e.g., temporary shut-down]?  Those types of actions: assessment and prioritization of structures at risk and graduated monitoring and action are required for bridges.  It would seem prudent to do the same for structures that carry over a million barrels of toxic liquids under regionally important and nationally significant waterways.  Land, water, habitat, wildlife and scenic value are at stake.

But it’s an opaque system.  And opaque systems breed doubt and distrust, especially when profit and shareholder share price is a driving motivator.  So I wonder.

Beyond that, even: I wonder how it can it be determined if a pipe has been under-cut and is suspended above the bottom of the river during a flood and what is the increased risk of pipe failure if that occurs?  That leads to even more questions. Questions are also a consequence of opacity.

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