Feds warn pipeline ops Seattle pipeline explosion could be repeated if computers not fixed!

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Why isnt anyone discussing the implications of the Fed warning that came out late yesterday and again today, cautioning pipeline operators that if they didnt get the "glitches" out of their computers we could have more explosive disasters like what just happened a little while ago in Seattle killing two children. (I heard on the radio that the caution did not mention the Seattle explosion by name but described the circumstance exactly.)

-- Ann Fisher (zyax55b@prodigy.com), July 10, 1999


Well...I am not discussing it because I haven't heard about it. Have you a link to share this info with the rest of us?


-- Taz (Tassie @aol.com), July 10, 1999.

You have a pipeline explosion? Naaaaah, I read about that when you first posted it. Hadn't read yet this morning about the Fed's warning.

Whatcha wanna discuss?


-- Beached Whale (beached_whale@hotmail.com), July 10, 1999.

Dear Amy,

Small thing, but actually, the event was in Bellingham, 90 miles north from Seattle.

Initial reports were that it had to do with a scratch on the pipe that was passed over for repair as it was superficial. The "computer glitch" aspect is very scary as these pipeline are under amazing pressure with "bounces" that occur as pumping is turned off and then on again with different products and destinations. Instantanious computer responses are critical.

As to your question, the most important implications, as I see it (Re: Y2K) are that we don't have the ability to respond to multiple emergencies. This one event taxed the resources of Bellingham and Whatcom County to the max. What would happen if we had a pipeline burst along with sewer back-up and a loss of pressure in the water lines supplying fire hydrants during an apartment fire at the other end of town?

This scenereo, along with additional complications of communications outages and rioting, isn't that far-fetched. If I was a fireman (or cop) and my family was living in a city with such problems I'd be hard-pressed to choose rescuing strangers over protecting my family from armed invaders, so you have to add staff shortages to the mix and you get disaster.

I think Gary North is right, it's systemic. If we have infrastructure faliures we're not going to be dealing with a "3" or "4", but a full blown "10". That's why the National Guard and FBI have cancelled leaves for the first time in history.

Now, for you Pollys, before you just start with the insults and such, consider addressing this:

If it's so easy to fix, why isn't the FAA (IRS, Army...) saying "We're done, it was a piece of cake. Come & see for yourself and by the way, we'll send our staff over to your company to help you fix your systems." Why don't we hear that?

Instead we get "We're very confident we'll be done on time."

Well, name ONE goverment program that was completed on time or on budget. Just one.

Forget flying on New Year's eve, I don't wanna be in New York when the welfare checks stop showing up and the drugs run out.


-- Randers (coyotecanyon@hotmail.com), July 10, 1999.

"National alert from pipeline accident" is at


Two things that caught my eye in this article were:

"Immediately prior to and during the incident, the SCADA system exhibited poor performance that inhibited the pipeline controllers from seeing and reacting to the development of an abnormal pipeline operations," regulators said in their advisory.


"Regulators also said the modifications made to the computer system after it was installed may have caused it to malfunction."

Hmm - what the article says is almost as important as what it doesn't say. Perhaps you 'puter types can "interpret" more of what they say and don't say from the article.

-- Valkyrie (anon@please.net), July 10, 1999.

Taz-http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=000wO W

-- Living in (the@real.world), July 10, 1999.

Thanks Ann, this appears to be an IMPORTANT Story:

National Alert From Pipeline Accident


-- Ray (ray@totacc.com), July 10, 1999.

Ann, you are right to be concerned about pipelines. I'm a crude oil analyst who has toured numerous crude oil and clean products (gasoline) pipeline facilties over the years. The control rooms of these lines are highly specialized, and in cases like Olympic's highly computerized nerve centers. Here is yet another article from the Seattle Times which AGAIN dances around the real question here. That question has yet to be asked by the media. "WHY DID THE COMPUTER CONTROL SYSTEMS CRASH?" I'm sure some mistakes were probably made along the way, but the root cause here was a crash of the control systems. Multiple failsafes and procedures also failed, but damn it none of that would have happened if the computer hadn't crashed. However, that is a terrifying reality for people to accept. Here is a sparkling example of the dangers of modern technological advances. I don't think that the administration wants to see a headline flash over CNN saying "Computer glitch causes massive gasoline spill which subsequently burns 3 boys to death in small town USA!" But that is exactly what happened people. Wake up out their. Your life is currently in your hands AND the hands of others. Do you trust em? Copyright ) 1999 The Seattle Times Company

Local News : Friday, July 09, 1999

Training by Olympic Pipe Line under investigation

by Steve Miletich Seattle Times staff reporter Federal agents are focusing on Olympic Pipe Line's training practices as part of the criminal investigation into last month's gasoline leak and explosion in Bellingham, according to sources familiar with the case.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Olympic's employees were properly prepared to deal with problems that occurred shortly before the June 10 blast that killed two boys and a young man and devastated Whatcom Creek.

"That's what they're looking at, big time," said one lawyer familiar with the case.

Under federal pipeline-safety laws, pipeline operators must conduct continuous training of their employees to ensure, among other things, that they know how to respond to emergencies and abnormal events.

Pipeline companies also must have a readily available manual that spells out rules for responding to problems.

Violations of the regulations are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

A federal grand jury in Seattle is investigating the rupture to determine whether Olympic or its employees violated any laws when 277,000 gallons of gasoline leaked into the creek, creating a huge vapor cloud that exploded into balls of flames.

Olympic was served with a grand-jury subpoena Tuesday, seeking records the company wouldn't specify.

The cause of the leak is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The criminal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the FBI, which are looking at potential violations of pollution laws.

But investigators are closely examining what procedures Olympic had in place before the blast to deal with unusual events and what actions were taken the day of the leak, sources said.

Olympic officials declined to respond to questions from The Seattle Times about the pipeline company's training procedures and operations manual.

They also refused to provide a copy of their manual, which, according to federal regulations, must be reviewed at least once a year to make sure it contains "effective" information.

"There is a vast amount of information being collected, both by the company and a number of investigative agencies," said Gerald Baron, a company spokesman.

Baron said Olympic is cooperating with various investigative agencies, including the U.S. Attorney's Office, and believes that neither the company nor its employees engaged in wrongdoing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Lincoln, one of two federal prosecutors heading the investigation, declined comment.

Much of the focus is on the company's computer-control room at its Renton headquarters. The computer system runs the pumps, valves, sensors and other equipment along 400 miles of pipeline from Bellingham to Portland.

Problems in the pipeline were first noticed in the control room about an hour and a half before the explosion, according to an account provided by an Olympic supervisor on June 11, the day after the leak.

While routinely shutting off the flow of gas to a customer, a controller saw that the computer was moving slowly.

At that point, the company's main computer system and a backup crashed.

Investigators say a valve then malfunctioned, sending a pressure wave that burst the pipe.

Shortly before the explosion, the computer was put back into operation and controllers restarted a pump that sends fuel into the pipeline at Ferndale, apparently before realizing it was leaking.

Eight Olympic employees who were working in the control room, including one supervisor, have refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

But investigators have computer tapes of control-room activity from the day of the rupture.

The Code of Federal Regulations requires pipeline employees to be trained to "recognize conditions that are likely to cause emergencies, predict the consequences of facility malfunctions or failures and hazardous liquid or carbon dioxide spills, and to take appropriate corrective action."

As part of that requirement, the operations manual must include information that helps employees identify populated areas where immediate action would be required if equipment failed.

Procedures to minimize the "likelihood of accidental ignition of vapors" in those areas should be detailed, the regulations say.

Employees must be periodically evaluated to assess their knowledge of normal operating procedures and their ability to take corrective action when problems occur, the regulations say.

Workers also must know how to check for further problems after an abnormal event.

In particular, employees should be trained in "taking necessary action, such as emergency shutdown or pressure reduction, to minimize the volume of hazardous liquid . . . that is released from any section of a pipeline system" during a failure, the regulations say.

Whether Olympic employees deviated from proper procedures is unknown, but the investigation comes at a time when Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board have been recommending stricter pipeline- safety regulations - including improved operator training and better leak-detection standards.

But the federal Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), a small office within the Department of Transportation, repeatedly has missed congressional deadlines and taken years to adopt watered-down versions of NTSB recommendations.

In other developments yesterday, Olympic received another extension from the OPS, which gives the company until July 19 to request a hearing on a safety order issued after the accident. The order requires the company to inspect valves and its control system, and prepare a new safety plan.

Olympic had wanted a hearing to clarify the intent of the safety order. The delay may now provide enough time, spokesman Baron said.

Steve Miletich's phone message number is 206-464-3302.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter Brier Dudley contributed to this report.

[ seattletimes.com home ] [ Classified Ads | Yellow Pages | Contact Us | Search Archives ] Copyright ) 1999 Seattle Times Company

-- Jim Smith (cyberax@ix.netcom.com), July 10, 1999.

There was also an article but I haven't been able to locate it yet, that says that at least 8 of the people manning the computers and systems that day, are answering questions by NTSB and other investigative agencies by invoking their 5th amendment rights. They have hired attorneys but Olympic Pipeline is paying for those attorneys. NTSB said their investigation was being hampered by the lack of information they were receiving from Olympic and its' employees.

-- Valkyrie (anon@please.net), July 10, 1999.

If that isn't bad enough, the company (that owns the pipeline) was trying to get permission to install another pipeline at the time of the accident. Until the charges against them were filed, they were insisting on repairing and restarting the (broken) pipeline again. At first their attitude was that it was the fault of those who had installed a pipeline over them and they couldn't be put out (loose money) by having an investigation. The pipeline supplies gas to BP (British Petrolum) gas stations aircraft fuel to SeaTac Airport and I do not remember the others. The interesting thing is here in Seattle the average person had no idea that the pipeline existed. Had the boys not used a fireplace starter to egnite the fumes, the fuel flowing down the river would have gone through the town where it would have egnited by any number of normal situations (such as car backfire, or the pilot light on someones stove) and literally blown up the town. This is not the only recient pipeline fire they have had there either. I do not remember, but I think it was a year or two ago when they had another fire. Also the refinery that processes the fuel is the one that exploded and killed some people in Anacortes a few months ago. These are not Y2K faults, but a good example of a the bottom line being for profits rather than having the proper training and safty and preventitive maintenance they should have. They did not repair the scarred pipe, there is a contraversy as to wheather they inspected the gouge, in my opinion because of the financial loss in stopping the line to repair it. Also the fact that the valve failed. Those should be inspected periodically to repair and replace any that do not work up to a predetermined standard. And there is the fact that the pipeline was restarted when there were definate signs of problems. Why was there a lack of communication between those who run the pipeline? Because it "always worked befor" was there complacency about the signs of problems? When The Y2K rollover happens there will be extra people in place to check for and hopefully repair the faults. What about the rest of the time? Big business downsizing, cutting corners for increased "profit" for share holders appears to be the way a lot of organizations are run today. This is widespread and accepted without question by society. If a company has the agenda that that puts profit before quality, then they deserve exactly what they get in the long run. This is the same attitude that allowed the Y2K fault to progress to the point it has. I get so sick of hearing that "our shareholders expect a profit". Trading stock is a gamble and there is no guarentee that you will make a profit. Lives should not be put in danger so that "shareholders" get what they think they deserve. Personally, I hope this company who owns the pipeline goes belly-up and some people with some decent standards takes them over.

-- Cherri (sams@brigadoon.com), July 11, 1999.

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