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Drilling on the Red River: Enbridge crew, firefighters practice oil spill cleanup

FNS Photo by Eric Hylden Grand Forks firefighters work with Enbridge officials Wednesday during a simulated cleanup drill on the Red River at Lincoln Park in Grand Forks.

GRAND FORKS — It was a drill in both senses of the word for Enbridge Pipeline workers on the frozen Red River between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., on Wednesday.

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They were sharpening up their skill at cleaning up an oil spill that could occur if the company’s pipeline under the river were to ver leak, according to spokeswoman Katie Haarsager.

When the river is liquid, they’d deploy boats and floating curtains to contain the oil. But when the river’s surface is solid, they have to drill through to get to the oil, which is naturally drawn to these ice holes.

Local emergency responders joined the workers so they can practice working together.

Just the week before, Enbridge had conducted a tabletop drill to test their coordination with responders to another fictional spill on the river. The company is proposing to build a larger pipeline than the one that now runs through the area just south of town.

Enbridge officials said they wanted to show local officials they already have plans for an emergency cleanup even before they build the Sandpiper Pipeline, which would run 610 miles from the oil fields of western North Dakota to a port on Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Haarsager said Enbridge conducts live drills like the one on Wednesday every year. Some are done in warmer weather and some in the cold, which she said makes the work more dangerous.

When an oil spill occurs underwater, the oil will naturally rise to the surface and float downstream. When there is ice, it will float under the ice. If holes are drilled in front of the advancing oil slick, the fact that oil is lighter than water and that the water is pressing up against the ice will cause the ice to find its way to the hole, according to Haarsager.

Not all the oil can be cleaned up this way, so Enbridge crews would have to return after the ice has thawed to look for more oil, she said.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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