Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com
If I lived somewhere in the Great Lakes region and had to commute to work by car, I suspect that I would probably suffer from anxiety, high blood pressure, and might even require professional help with anger management. Motorists in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, (Kentucky and Ohio, too) are subject to the most volatile gasoline prices anywhere in the United States.
So I'm guessing that many may become especially aggravated when seemingly innocuous events create steep spikes in the price at the pump. I'm referring to the July 27 incident when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured, spilling 1,200 barrels of crude into rural Wisconsin. Reuters reported that damage there was minimal and the leak was miles from any water sources or spotted owls.
Couple the pipeline fiasco with operations problems at the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., and you've got Great Lakes-area gas prices jacked up by more than 30 cents per gallon. Just to illustrate the point, in Chicago the average price of gasoline Tuesday reached $4.27 per gallon. Just a week ago it was $3.98; a month ago, $3.82. (Awaking to that would probably have me sputtering curses and shaking frenetically; Lewis Black comes to mind.)
To prevent things like this from happening, the National Transportation Safety Board along with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reportedly began "a new pipeline safety effort" in 2011, says Reuters. And the Wisconsin spill is particularly troubling for both the federal bureaucracy that failed to prevent it and Enbridge, the same pipeline company that just two years ago leaked 20,000 barrels of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
But here's what really has me scratching my head: On July 10, 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a news release to explain the screw-up that happened with the Enbridge pipeline leak into the Kalamazoo River, two years earlier (July 25, 2010). Here's the lead: "Pervasive organizational failures by a pipeline operator along with weak federal regulations led to a pipeline rupture and subsequent oil spill in 2010," the National Transportation Safety Board said.
National Transportation Safety Board expanded with even greater candor: "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," said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.
And, here we go again. We'll have to wait and see what the National Transportation Safety Board says about the Wisconsin leak of July 2012. Will Enbridge ever earn consumer confidence in their pipeline operations? Certainly the timing of the release that excoriates Enbridge's handling of its problem two years ago is curious to say the least. Did someone at the National Transportation Safety Board have a premonition?