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US seeks record fine for oil spill

US regulators have proposed a record 3.7 million dollar (£2.4 million) civil penalty against the Canadian owner of a pipeline that ruptured in 2010, dumping more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a Michigan river.

The US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said the penalty against Enbridge would be the largest it had imposed. In a letter to the company, the agency listed 24 breaches of hazardous liquid pipeline regulations.

The agency said the company had failed to detect the rupture for 17 hours after it happened during a scheduled shutdown on July 25 2010. Instead, Enbridge staff twice restarted the line despite receiving multiple alarms and "indications of abnormal operating conditions".

Enbridge, based in Calgary, Alberta, has 30 days to respond. It could accept the agency's findings and pay the penalty or request a hearing before an administrative judge.

The company said it was co-operating with investigators and would not provide detailed comment until it had analysed the agency's letter.

"We appreciate the hard work and due diligence of PHMSA and others who are investigating this incident," Enbridge said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to issue a report next week on what caused the rupture in the pipeline extending from Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia, Ontario.

Despite it being the largest fine levied by PHMSA, the 3.7 million is much less than the amount companies have paid out for other large spills.

Officials have yet to determine the fine against BP for Clean Water Act breaches from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, but they could range from 5.4 to 21.1 billion dollars (£3.4 to £13.5bn).

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