DETROIT/CALGARY (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc's chief executive said on Friday he was unable to say when the company would be able to restart the Michigan pipeline that ruptured earlier this week, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil.
There was "no forward push of the oil" toward Lake Michigan by Friday, Ralph Dollhopf, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters.
While Enbridge Chief Executive Pat Daniel said that making the pipe ready to resume operation can take only a matter of days, but he said a restart of the pipeline is in the hands of U.S. regulators.
The Department of Transportation ordered Enbridge on Wednesday to complete a number of precautionary steps before restarting the 286-mile pipeline carrying as much as 190,000 barrels per day of oil from northern Indiana to Sarnia, Ontario.
"The ultimate decision is with the third-party regulator and not with Enbridge," Daniel said on a conference call.
Enbridge has exposed the ruptured pipeline, which will then be examined by regulators. The damaged pipe will then be cut out and replaced with a pretested section of pipe. After a DOT inspection and approval, the line can then be returned to service, at reduced pressure.
The spill noticed on Monday by Enbridge follows the devastating BP Plc spill in the Gulf of Mexico and has been watched with concern in part because of its threat to Lake Michigan, part of the largest supply of fresh water on the planet.
Enbridge has increased the number of booms checking the flow of the oil down the Kalamazoo River, with 26 in place and as many as 10 more added over the weekend.
Meanwhile, residents of 14 homes have evacuated voluntarily and about 100 homes near the Kalamazoo River have been told not to drink water from their taps.
Enbridge has so far recovered between 5,000 and 6,000 barrels of 19,500 barrels of the spilled oil, which was tar-like bitumen from Alberta's Cold Lake oil sands region mixed with a diluent that allows the heavy crude to flow down pipelines.
But the effort now faces diminishing returns as more and more water is collected along with the spilled oil.
Daniel said Enbridge does not yet have an estimate for the cost of the clean-up or repairs to the pipeline, which was operated by its U.S. affiliate Enbridge Energy Partners
But it may face substantial fines from the United States for the spill. Under the Oil Pollution Act, fines of up to $4,300 a barrel ($100 a gallon) could be levied if it's determined the company was grossly negligent, or $1,100 per barrel if was less irresponsible.
Daniel said the company will pay all costs for the clean-up and the company does not think that the incident bears comparison to BP's disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The BP incident was drilling related ... this is a pipeline rupture. I think they're very, very different and just about impossible to compare," he said.
Reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary, Bernie Woodall in Detroit; editing by Leslie Gevirtz