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Michigan firm threatens to sue Canada company for pipeline spill

A Michigan public interest law firm, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) [official website], on Monday sent a notice of intent to file suit [text, PDF; GLELC release] to Enbridge, Inc. [corporate website], the Canadian owner of the Michigan pipeline that ruptured [AP report] on July 26 and dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge estimates [response website] that 840,000 gallons of oil have spilled, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] believes more than one million gallons may have leaked into the river [press release]. While the leak has stopped, it has affected marshlands, residential areas, farmlands, businesses, and more than 25 miles of the river. GLELC is alleging that Enbridge violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) [text] by releasing oil and hazardous substances into navigable waters of the US, and negligently ignored warnings by the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration [official website]. If found liable, Enbridge could be subject to a civil penalty of $32,500 per day of violation or up to $1,100 per barrel of oil, for a total estimated by GLELC to be around $100 million. GLELC said that it would file the suit unless Enbridge is able to reach a settlement on the spill within 60 days. Also on Monday, the EPA received $13 million to fund the government's response [press releases] to the oil spill.

Michigan's leak comes just months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive], where more than 120 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, surpassing the Exxon Valdez oil spill [JURIST news archive] as the worst in US history. In July, a lawsuit [JURIST report] was filed against BP in a Louisiana state court alleging that the company's negligent actions led to the oil spill and that BP was also negligent in its handling of the cleanup. Also in July, a federal judge refused to reinstate [JURIST report] a six-month drilling moratorium [JURIST report] issued in May by the Obama administration. The Obama administration has since issued a new drilling moratorium [JURIST report] affecting only specific types of drilling equipment, which is also being challenged in federal court. The BP spill has prompted international inquiries into drilling regulations. Earlier in July, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger [official website] indicated that the EU would consider limiting the depth [JURIST report] of offshore deepwater oil drilling [JURIST news archive] or placing a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling. In June, the UK announced that the government will increase inspection [JURIST report] of North Sea oil rigs and monitoring of offshore compliance and safety standards. The UK government also established the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group [official website] to conduct a review of the country's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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