WASH--Parents of Pipline Explosion Victims Blast Company at Congressional Hearing

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Parents of pipeline firestorm victims blast company at congressional hearing

By JIM KLAHN Associated Press Writer

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) - Western Washington's principal petroleum pipeline should be shut down until the cause of a 229,000-gallon gasoline leak is known, says the father of a boy who died in the resulting firestorm.

Mary King wept as her husband, Frank King, addressed Sens. Slade Gorton and Patty Murray on Monday at a hearing before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee.

``We need to know how this accident happened,'' King said. ``Olympic Pipe Line's gross, rotten negligence killed my little man. He was our joy in life. He was a joy to many people in Bellingham.''

Wade King, 10, his playmate, Stephen Tsiorvas, also 10, and Liam Wood, 18, a fly fisherman, died June 10 when gasoline from a ruptured Olympic pipeline erupted in a fireball along Whatcom Falls Creek.

The King and Tsiorvas families have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Olympic.

The cause of the accident still has not been determined by National Transportation Safety Board investigators. Olympic blames damage to the pipe on a local digging contractor. The contractor denies causing such damage.

Olympic is owned by a consortium of oil companies - Arco, Equilon Enterprises and GATX. Houston-based Equilon, a joint venture of Texaco and Shell, operates the line.

Olympic has about 400 miles of pipeline in a 299-mile corridor from Whatcom County refineries to Seattle and Portland, Ore. A 37-mile stretch remains closed north of Bayview, near Mount Vernon, and the rest is operating at 80 percent pressure.

Last week federal officials ordered the company to change some of its testing and inspection procedures, including use of a new and more advanced system to check the integrity of pipeline seams, before reopening the northern segment.

King asked Gorton why the pipeline was still operating at all. The senator later put the query to Carl Gast, who took over as Olympic's chief executive officer on Jan. 3.

Gast said the pipeline had been studied extensively by company engineers and outside experts.

``The pipeline as it stands is a safe system to operate, according to all the experts in the field,'' he said.

Richard B. Felder, associate administrator in the U.S. Transportation Department's Office of Pipeline Safety, said federal regulators believe the pipeline is safe to operate at 80 percent pressure, and Olympic must complete comprehensive tests before the pressure can be increased.

``We want to give the citizens of this state the equivalent of a brand new pipeline,'' Felder said.

Nearly 200 people attended the hearing and almost two dozen testified. Many, including officials from cities along the pipeline route, demanded that company and federal regulatory officials prove they can make the pipeline safe.

Before the hearing, a handful of people gathered outside, waving placards with such messages as ``How Many More Demons Have They Buried Beneath Our Feet?'' and ``Safety Before Profits.''

Officials from Bellingham, Bellevue, Renton and SeaTac testified that they had been stonewalled by the company when they asked for critical information about the pipeline in their communities.

``We don't believe that Olympic has maintained the 35-year-old pipeline adequately,'' said Calvin Hoggard, city manager of SeaTac.

The company is developing a state-of-the-art safety action plan and is seeking better relations with pipeline neighbors, Gast said. Company personnel have met with school districts, elected officials and others, he said.

``Olympic is committed to reaching out to communities up and down (the pipeline) corridor,'' Gast said. ``I would be happy to sit down with the cities and talk out our differences.''

King and other relatives of the victims also were critical of the Office for Pipeline Safety.

He said the agency ``is in the pipeline industry's hip pocket and consequently refuses to regulate the industry.''

Felder defended the agency. ``I don't accept that we're favoring or working on behalf of those we regulate,'' he said.

Murray, D-Wash., has introduced legislation to give the states more authority over pipelines. She told the hearing federal oversight had been inadequate and that states should be allowed to enact regulations to help safeguard their residents. Gorton, R-Wash., is a co-sponsor.

``Though we still have a lot more listening to do, I feel the bill's fundamental direction is right and I hope the hearing today will help us significantly in re-forming the measure,'' Gorton said.

The bill would improve inspection practices, require investments in new technology, expand the public's right to know about spills and pipeline problems and provide increased funding for safety.

Gast and other industry officials testified that they don't mind working with the states but prefer that the federal government retain overall authority over interstate pipelines.

Gov. Gary Locke said he was notified Monday by the top federal pipeline safety administrator that the state's request for authority to inspect all interstate pipelines within its borders had been granted on condition that one state agency be responsible, The Seattle Times reported. Legislation enacted in Olympia last week would divide the task between two state agencies.

``We've got it,'' Locke said. ``We've just got to work out the fine details.''

Felder, however, said under questioning he would prefer that authority over inspections remain with the federal agency.

Copyright ) 2000 The Register-Guard


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 14, 2000


Bellevue and Renton communities both hired outside engineers to go over the information that Olympic sent them regarding the pipelines through their communities, these experts cited 40 danger areas in these pipelines for their areas, Olympics answer: pshaw - they don't know what they are talking about. This company disgusts me to the point I would personally shut them down permanently if I could.

They still haven't given any straight answers to very important questions. From the beginning they refused to answer. They give the impression that they are waaaaaay above all this fuss *tsk tsk*.

-- Sammie (sammie0x@yahoo.com), March 15, 2000.

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