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Minnesota oil pipeline explosion and fire kills two

Friday, November 30, 2007

A major oil pipeline in Minnesota exploded and caught fire, killing two workers. The pipeline carries oil from Saskatchewan, Canada to close to Chicago, United States, representing 16% of America’s total oil imports.

The section of the pipe that exploded was undergoing maintenance at the time to address a pinhole leak first identified three weeks earlier, and patched at the time with a metal sleeve. On Wednesday, the entire section was removed and replaced with a new one. When oil was reintroduced on Thursday morning, oil leaked where the new section joined the pre-existing pipe, triggering the fatal explosion.

The fire was extinguished later the same day.

The line is split between four separate pipes. After the explosion, all four pipes were shut down, resulting in the global price surge, but this subsided for the most part after it became clear that the three undamaged pipelines had returned to normal operation, restoring 80% of the line’s capacity, and that the accident pipe is expected to be back in use in a matter of days.

“There were no problems found in that area where the leak occurred,” reporters were told by Larry Springer, spokesman for Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns the line. High-tech equipment had been through the line in 2006 to check for any signs of problems.

Enbridge identified the deceased as Dave Mussati Jr. and Steve Arnovich, both of whom were contract workers based in Superior, Wisconsin. The damaged section of pipe is in Clearbrook, which is approximately 350 miles Northwest of Minneapolis.

Enbridge metallurgists have been sent to examine the failed section in an effort to determin the cause of the accident. Other Enbridge workers are working to clear spilled oil from the site. It is expected that once this is complete, the pipe will return to service.

Global crude oil prices temporarily spiked by over US$4 per barrel but closed yesterday slightly above original prices.

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