More tests sought before pipe reopened (Investigation has been delayed because key Olympic personnel have refused to testify) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Wednesday, January 19, 2000, 08:19 a.m. Pacific

More tests sought before pipe reopened

by Brier Dudley Seattle Times staff reporter

Critics of Olympic Pipe Line said more testing and investigation should be done before the company restarts its pipeline.

Yesterday, seven months after a pipeline accident that killed three people in a Bellingham city park, Olympic asked federal regulators for permission to resume full operation of its 400-mile system across Western Washington.

It will be months before federal investigators determine exactly what caused the accident, but Olympic says it has improved safety and should be allowed to return to normal operations.

The Bellingham incident was one of the nation's worst pipeline accidents and prompted widespread calls for better regulation of the industry. Legislators begin reviewing state pipeline rules this week.

Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, said Olympic should first conduct pressure tests on older pipe considered at risk of rupture. The costly tests were done in Whatcom County and revealed a weak spot.

"I think the folks in Snohomish and East King County are deserving of the same level of confidence that was obtained in Whatcom County before it's reopened," Inslee said.

Also concerned is the lawyer representing the families of two 10-year-old boys killed in a fireball after they ignited the 277,000 gallons of gasoline that leaked June 10. Also killed was an 18-year-old who was fishing nearby.

"As far as I'm concerned, they've got the cart before the horse," said Seattle attorney David Beninger, who said Olympic should first explain why the accident happened.

The pipeline safety office, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, would not comment on Olympic's progress.

"We're going to review it, and after we look at everything that's been provided, then we'll determine whether or not we're ready to move forward," safety-office spokeswoman Pat Klinger said.

Klinger said there would be no public hearings to review Olympic's application.

After the accident, the safety office closed a section of the pipeline in Whatcom County. Later, after the pipe ruptured during a test, the company was ordered to cut pressure 20 percent systemwide.

Olympic also was ordered to excavate and visually inspect pipe defects that had been found in 1996 tests, and to use remote, internal sensors to inspect the entire system.

The company also must check valves and the design of a new storage depot near Mount Vernon, where safety valves failed to contain a pressure buildup that investigators think contributed to the rupture.

Yesterday, Olympic said it had retrained operators, inspected valves near Bellingham, pressure-tested 37 miles of the system, upgraded the system's computers and analyzed pipe conditions to ensure pressure would remain within limits.

The company said it would do the required inspections elsewhere after it received permission to restart. Olympic spokeswoman Maggie Brown said there must be fuel in the pipe to test it.

"As soon as we get product in the line and can start an inspection program, we would obviously be implementing that," she said.

Olympic proposed a gradual restart in Whatcom and Skagit counties, where pressure would go first to 70 percent or 80 percent of normal to prove the pipeline is working properly. That's the area where National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators have focused much of their attention, because of concerns about the depot.

The investigation has been delayed because key Olympic personnel have refused to testify, and because federal criminal investigators in October blocked some testing of the ruptured pipe.

Allan Beshore, the NTSB's lead investigator, said yesterday there had been progress on testing but it would be several months before a report was issued on the cause of the accident.

So far, the NTSB has said a surge of pressure caused a 28-inch-long tear in the pipeline in Whatcom Falls Park. The system shut down automatically, but at one point Olympic operators restarted it and sent more gasoline through the hole, investigators said.

The spilled gasoline flowed into a creek heading toward the city's downtown until the boys ignited it with a fireplace lighter.

Congress, Gov. Gary Locke and state legislators are all considering stricter pipeline regulations. One change being discussed would require more public disclosure of safety inspections. Locke says he also wants the state to assume local regulation of pipelines.

The shutdown has been costly to Olympic because it charges fuel companies for every gallon it transports. The shutdown also contributed to fuel shortages last summer that raised gasoline prices in the West. The pipeline delivers nearly all fuel used in Western Washington and Oregon, and is the primary means of getting fuel to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

State environmental agencies also are concerned because more ships are hauling fuel on Puget Sound while the pipeline is partly closed, increasing the risk of a spill.

-- Homer Beanfang (, January 19, 2000


Jump in the wayback machine to one of the first Olympic Pipeline threads. On the day of the blast they were talking about new computer software they had just loaded, then the rupture.

Sure sounded like a machine crash due to the new software, which (given the timing) sounded like a Y2k patch. All silent on the computer issue since then. No follow-up, no questions. Now, I'm not accusing anyone, but if I'd slammed in a new patch without testing it, and three people died, I'd probably be keeping a pretty low profile.

I think that if three people die, and you know something about the reason, it's fair punishment to say you don't get to resume business until you tell us what you know.

-- bw (home@puget.sound), January 19, 2000.

This problem was a multifaceted one according to the earliest reports. The control room which is a highly automated complex system had it's computers "upgraded" the day of the explosion. The system then crashed after it began exhibiting diminished capacity and performance.

The executives from the company were on a dog and pony show that day at the precise pump that failed and sent the pressure surge flying down the line.

The net of this is that three boys died a horrible death. Anyone who's ever been even lightly burned will tell you what a bad experience this is. These boys were to hot for rescuers to touch when found. One of them utterred "Please don't tell my mom ok?" He died shortly thereafter. To all you pipeline employees who are keeping your f*cking mouths shut, may you live a thousand years with the guilt of your complicity in this affair. You owe those boys more than that. How can you live with yourselves?

Sorry for the rant, but this one is disgusting to me. And to all you pollies who think that everything is hunkey dorey in computer control land, think again. The systems are ultimately programmed by humans who are ultimately frail.

-- Gordon (, January 19, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ