By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government blocked Enbridge Inc from restarting a key oil pipeline on Tuesday, saying last week's spill on the line was "absolutely unacceptable."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood blasted Enbridge over the leak of more than a 1,000 barrels of crude oil in a field in Wisconsin, which shut its 318,000 barrel per day pipeline on Friday.
"I will soon meet with Enbridge's leadership team, and they will need to demonstrate why they should be allowed to continue to operate this Wisconsin pipeline without either a significant overhaul or a complete replacement," LaHood said in a statement.
"Accidents like the one in Wisconsin are absolutely unacceptable."
The department ratcheted up its oversight of pipeline safety last year after a series of high profile spills gained national attention, including a 2010 spill on another Enbridge line that fouled part of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
The Wisconsin spill is another blow to Enbridge's reputation, after the department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a $3.7 million fine for the 2010 spill earlier this month and a National Transportation Safety Board report accused Enbridge employees of acting like "Keystone Kops" during that accident.
MORE TESTING REQUIRED
Enbridge will now need to submit a restart plan for the entire 467-mile (752-km) pipeline to the Transportation Department's pipeline safety agency for approval before resuming operations.
The company will also need to test the ruptured pipe, evaluate previous inspections and commission an independent probe of its integrity management.
Line 14 is a 24-inch diameter pipe that was installed in 1998, making it a relatively new line. Enbridge said the line, which carries Canadian crude to refiners in the Midwest, had been inspected twice in the past five years.
Enbridge did not immediately provide comment on the government order.
The company had said earlier it expected repairs on the line to be completed on Tuesday.
Two local residents had said over the weekend that one house near the site of the Wisconsin leak had been "covered" in oil, but an Enbridge spokesman said that this was incorrect and reiterated that the release had been limited to the pipeline right-of-way, as well as a nearby field and some trees.
Enbridge kicked off one of the most sweeping expansions in its history just two months ago, announcing a multibillion-dollar series of projects aimed at moving western Canada and North Dakota oil to Eastern refineries and eliminating costly bottlenecks in the U.S. Midwest.
Canada is the largest source of foreign crude for the United States, supplying over 2.4 million bpd of the more than 8.3 million bpd imported by the nation on average in July. Enbridge's lines, the world's largest crude oil pipeline system, carry the lion's share of those shipments.
(Additional reporting by Scott Haggett, David Sheppard; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Marguerita Choy)