- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

AMSTERDAM, Mo. (AP) - At dawn these cold mornings, pickups with license plates from all over the country roll off the blacktop and into the gravel in front of McBee’s General Store in this little Bates County town.

“Looks like a truck lot out there,” said store manager Jason Dunlap.

The guys in rugged boots don’t want yogurt and a banana. They arrived in early fall to build a stretch of a 600-mile oil pipeline from Illinois to Oklahoma. They’re out there sunup to sundown, 12 hours a day, six days a week, freezing cold, snow, wind, rain and mud. Only a Sunday stops this bunch.

Needing lodging along the route, which passes within 40 miles of Kansas City? Better have a relative. The pipeline gangs have pretty much claimed every rental unit, motel room and RV slot in the small towns along the way. Operators say business is great, a real economic boon. Same with restaurants. The Fishing Dock in Archie, Mo., even started serving grits because so many of the workers are from down South.

Did the cook know how to make grits?

“Says how on the box,” waitress Jocelyn Fenton said.

But the nearly $3 billion Flanagan South pipeline, designed to carry 600,000 barrels daily, is not without opposition. Its purpose will be much the same as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline - to help carry tar sands crude from western Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration blocked the northern part of Keystone, a move cheered by environmentalists.

The difference with the rival Flanagan South is that it does not cross an international border, so it did not require U.S. State Department approval. It ties in with pipelines outside Chicago. Also, it runs adjacent to an existing line, so most of the right of way already had been secured.

But environmental groups still oppose the project in general and the company behind it, Enbridge, specifically.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which has oversight on pipelines that cross state lines, Enbridge had organizational failures that led to the single most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history - nearly $1 billion in cleanup costs.

On July 25, 2010, a 30-inch oil pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge ruptured near Marshall, Mich. Crude spilled into an ecologically sensitive area near the Kalamazoo River until a utility worker discovered the leak.

Two years later, NTSB chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said: “This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge. Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment.

“Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures.”

In response, Enbridge said, it increased its spending on pipeline integrity management and testing to more than $450 million in each of the two years after the Michigan spill.

Enbridge has made some significant changes since the Marshall accident, including a more robust inspection and integrity management program, as well as revised procedures pertaining to how we handle leak detection alarms and communication,” spokeswoman Lara Burhenn said Friday.

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