Pipeline Accident Report - Pipeline Rupture and Subsequent Fire

Bellingham, Washington
June 10, 1999

NTSB Number: PAR-02-02
NTIS Number: PB2002-910402
Adopted October 8, 2002
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Executive Summary

About 3:28 p.m., Pacific daylight time, on June 10, 1999, a 16-inch-diameter steel pipeline owned by Olympic Pipe Line Company ruptured and released about 237,000 gallons of gasoline into a creek that flowed through Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington. About 1 1/2 hours after the rupture, the gasoline ignited and burned approximately 1 1/2 miles along the creek. Two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old young man died as a result of the accident. Eight additional injuries were documented. A single-family residence and the city of Bellingham's water treatment plant were severely damaged. As of January 2002, Olympic estimated that total property damages were at least $45 million.

Probable Cause

The Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the June 10, 1999, rupture of the Olympic pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, was (1) damage done to the pipe by IMCO General Construction, Inc., during the 1994 Dakin-Yew water treatment plant modification project and Olympic Pipe Line Company's inadequate inspection of IMCO's work during the project; (2) Olympic Pipe Line Company's inaccurate evaluation of in-line pipeline inspection results, which led to the company's decision not to excavate and examine the damaged section of pipe; (3) Olympic Pipe Line Company's failure to test, under approximate operating conditions, all safety devices associated with the Bayview products facility before activating the facility; (4) Olympic Pipe Line Company's failure to investigate and correct the conditions leading to the repeated unintended closing of the Bayview inlet block valve; and (5) Olympic Pipe Line Company's practice of performing database development work on the supervisory control and data acquisition system while the system was being used to operate the pipeline, which led to the system's becoming non-responsive at a critical time during pipeline operations.

The major safety issues identified during this investigation are as follows:

  • Excavations performed by IMCO General Construction, Inc., in the vicinity of Olympic's pipeline during a major construction project and the adequacy of Olympic Pipe Line Company's inspections thereof;
  • The adequacy of Olympic Pipe Line Company's interpretation of the results of in-line inspections of its pipeline and its evaluation of all pipeline data available to it to effectively manage system integrity;
  • The adequacy of Olympic Pipe Line Company's management of the construction and commissioning of the Bayview products terminal;
  • The performance and security of Olympic Pipe Line Company's supervisory control and data acquisition system; and
  • The adequacy of Federal regulations regarding the testing of relief valves used in the protection of pipeline systems.

As a result of this investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board issues safety recommendations to the Research and Special Programs Administration

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the June 10, 1999, rupture of an Olympic Pipe Line Company pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

To the Research and Special Programs Administration:

Develop and issue guidance to pipeline operators on specific testing procedures that can (1) be used to approximate actual operations during the commissioning of a new pumping station or the installation of a new relief valve, and (2) be used to determine, during annual tests, whether a relief valve is functioning properly. (P-02-4)

Issue an advisory bulletin to all pipeline operators who use supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems advising them to implement an off-line workstation that can be used to modify their SCADA system database or to perform developmental and testing work independent of their on-line systems. Advise operators to use the off-line system before any modifications are implemented to ensure that those modifications are error-free and that they create no ancillary problems for controllers responsible for operating the pipeline. (P-02-5)