Damaged pipeline will be examined


Herald Writer

A petroleum pipeline company, under fire since a fatal accident more than a year ago, will dig up and examine 35 dented or corroded sections of its 16-inch line that runs through Snohomish County.

What the company termed "anomalies" were found earlier by running detection gear through the line that runs from Ferndale in Whatcom County to Renton in King County.

The 35 inspection points were the most discovered in any one of the four counties involved, altogether 94 anomalies were detected, BP/Olympic Pipe Line Co. spokesman Dan Cummings said.

How much of the dented pipe will be replaced is unknown, Cummings said. That will be up to the federal Office of Pipeline Safety.

The company also will add or replace eight valves within the county.

The only pipe section that will be replaced for sure is the crossing under the Stillaguamish River east of I-5, Cummings said. That section contains suspect pipe of the type that burst during a water-pressure test in Bellingham right after the fatal explosion.

This is the first time the company has identified sites where potential problems were located. The company is in the process of notifying local government officials of its intentions and is seeking permits for digging that may be required in roadways or near streams.

The pipeline has been closed since the June 1999 fuel leak and explosion in Bellingham that took three young lives. A parallel 20-inch line is still delivering petroleum products.

The company, which went through a major management shift in July, is trying to re-establish credibility and gain the confidence of the public.

The company marked areas for excavation that would not require inspection under normal circumstances, Cummings said.

"We identified these for visual inspection and the vast majority do not warrant visual inspection under industry standards," Cummings said. "It’s a very conservative criteria. We are doing that in order to improve and gain the confidence of the people who live along the pipeline corridor."

The decision to visually inspect the 35 problem areas in Snohomish County will help that goal, county Executive Bob Drewel said Wednesday.

"This is a welcome and absolutely appropriate activity," Drewel said. "I think it reaffirms the recent comments by the company about safety-concern issues."

Digging up those sections is "a major step," Drewel added. "You can’t replace it unless you dig in the ground."

The planned work at the Stillaguamish is the department’s biggest concern. The valve is meant to help stem the flow of oil products in case there is a leak, Cummings said.

Olympic will start inspection work next week in Skagit County and will move southward. Construction crews may be seen in the area as early as mid-October.

When the inspections and necessary repairs are complete, the company plans to test the line with high-pressure water, something government officials have been seeking for more than a year.

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