Recalling the Olympic Pipe Line Explosion - 10 years later










Recalling 10 years of work since Bellingham pipeline explosion

The incident remains one of the defining cases in Department of Ecology history: on June 10, 1999, more than 277,000 gallons of gasoline poured out of a ruptured section of the Olympic Pipe Line Co.’s interstate liquid fuel pipeline. The gas entered Whatcom Creek creating an explosive environment that once ignited, took three lives and burned through the heart of the city of Bellingham.

Shortly after hearing the explosion and seeing smoke clouds, colleagues from our Bellingham Field Office were involved in the response. In a matter of hours, responders from Northwest Regional Office and Ecology headquarters began to arrive at the command post in Bellingham. (Read full story...)




June 10, 2009 Events (Pipeline Safety Trust)

Complete Pipeline Coverage (Bellingham Herald)

Video Remembrances (City of Bellingham's BTV10)

Pipeline Safety Day (Proclamation by Governor Gregoire; pdf)


Guest Editorial: Richard Grout (Bellingham Herald)

Henderson's Story (Bellingham Herald)

Peck's Story (Bellingham Herald)



Incident Archives (Whatcom County)

Olympic Pipeline Incident (City of Bellingham)

$7.86 million penalty (Ecology)

Case: Whatcom Creek, WA (NOAA)


Response Photos (Ecology: 11Mb ppt)

Photos (City of Bellingham)

2009 Restoration Report (19Mb pdf)

Executive Summary (City of Bellingham)


The Office of Pipeline Safety

Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission

Citizens Committee on Pipeline Safety

National Traffic Safety Board Pipeline Accident Report (pdf)

What DO ECOLOGY & UTC SEE AS the major improvements in pipeline safety since the incident?

Establishment of the Citizens Committee on Pipeline Safety
(CCOPS). This Governor-appointed committee meets regularly to discuss, identify, review and highlight pipeline safety issues on a local and national level.

Delegation of federal authority to the State of Washington to inspect and investigate interstate pipeline incidents.

Development of a pipeline geographical information system and providing pipeline maps and related data available to emergency responders and public agencies statewide.

Improved public access to pipeline inspection records, pipeline oil spill contingency plans, results of drill evaluations and information about state agency enforcement actions.

Stricter regulatory standards for pipeline operations and maintenance and to review and approve pipeline oil spill contingency plans and drills to test and improve the effectiveness of plans. State planning rules were updated in 2006.

Placement of oil spill response equipment caches at strategic points in local communities throughout Washington to enable rapid and thorough response to spills.

Development of inland response strategies (Geographic Response Plans) that target natural, cultural and economic resources at risk from pipeline spills and pre-identify strategies to minimize damages.

How can pipeline safety in Washington still be improved?

Pipeline Damage Prevention — A continuing need to improve:
     • awareness of state “Call Before You Dig” law, including state toll-free 811 hotline to find out locations of buried
     pipelines and utility lines,
     • enforcement authority for “call” law
     • accuracy of pipeline location during excavation, and
     • attention to managing excavation to avoid damage.

Pipeline Integrity Management — Ensuring processes and procedures are in place to:
     • monitor pipeline integrity,
     • periodically inspect pipelines for anomalies and corrosion to stay ahead of potential problems, and
     • repair and replace systems as necessary.

Integrity Management Plans — Continuing to monitor hazardous liquid transmission pipeline operators to verify that they are following the characteristics and schedules of their integrity management plans.

Improve response capability in inland areas of Washington – Continuing to pre-stage spill response equipment into more remote inland areas of the state, especially equipment effective in fast water environments such as rivers and streams.