Pipeline tested for restart after fatal accident

Olympic Pipe Line Co. is conducting safety checks on a 16-in. petroleum products pipeline in Washington State for the phased restart of a 37-mile section within a month, officials said Tuesday. A portion of that pipeline ruptured June 10, 1999, killing three people.


Sam Fletcher
Senior Writer
OGJ Online

Olympic Pipe Line Co. is conducting safety checks on a 16-in. petroleum products pipeline in Washington State in a move that could phase-in the restart of a 37-mile section within a month, officials said Tuesday.

The pipeline ruptured June 10, 1999, spilling 229,000 gal of gasoline into a creek in Bellingham, Wash., 90 miles north of Seattle. The spill ignited into a fireball that killed two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man.

The 37-mile section of pipeline was shut down following that accident when federal investigators reported several safety violations by Equilon Enterprises LLC, which then operated the pipeline. The US Transportation Department�s Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) subsequently assessed fines of $3 million against Equilon, the largest such action in the agency�s history.

Last week, OPS officials approved Olympic�s plan to start pumping diesel fuel�the least volatile product�into the pipeline to test its integrity and the new safety equipment installed after the accident.

Line filled
�We started filling the line Friday and completed the fill Sunday to a pressure of 500 psi, about 36-37% of its normal operating pressure of 1,320 psi. So far, it is holding well, and we are doing the rest of the safety check procedures under the oversight of the OPS,� said Dan Cummings, spokesman for BP Pipelines North America, a unit of BP that now operates Olympic Pipe Line.

If all goes well, he said, that section of pipeline could be operating at 70% of normal pressure within a couple of weeks, increasing eventually to its new cap of 80% of normal pressure within a month.

However, a 77-mile southern section of the 16-in. pipeline remains shut down for inspection and repair. That section will probably be returned to service in the second quarter.

BP and Olympic officials have been careful to involve local government officials approving plans to restart the pipeline, which is a primary means of supplying a mix of refined products to Washington.

Prior to the accident, Olympic moved 13.4 million gpd of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel�some 4.9 billion gal/year. It would take 1,800 tanker trucks to move the same amount of daily product and pose a greater potential hazard to the public, Cummings said.

A third of the pipeline�from Ferndale in Watcom County to Allen Station in Skagit County�has been shut down since the accident, although some periodic deliveries have been made for inspection and testing purposes under OPS authority. Olympic voluntarily shut down another segment of the system as a matter of safety, and maximum operating pressure on the entire system was reduced by 20%.

As a result, BP-Olympic now moves only 57% of its earlier volume, or 7.6 million gpd.

Olympic is the sole supplier of jet fuel to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Since the pipeline was shut down, trucks have transported a smaller amount of that fuel.

At one point, the airport was within a day of running out of aircraft fuel. �All that saved it was the United Airlines slowdown and the fact that Alaska Airlines pulled some flights,� one source reported.

The energy crisis in California may have helped enlist public support for restarting the pipeline, Cummings said. Electrical brownouts in California have disrupted jet fuel shipments to airports at Phoenix, Ariz.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and other connections to Seattle-Tacoma. As a result, airlines that previously fueled up at those airports before flying to Washington are now coming into Seattle-Tacoma with �light� fuel loads that they need to replenish, he said.

BP takes over
At the time of the accident, Atlantic Richfield Co. was a minority stockholder in that pipeline. BP took over its 33.5% interest when the two companies merged. Then last July, BP Pipelines made a successful bid to become operator.

�We�re the second largest operator of liquid pipelines in the country. We thought we could apply a lot of that expertise,� explained Cummings.

BP operates 15,000 miles of liquids pipeline in 31 states, transporting more than 450 million bbl-miles�9% of the total US market�of oil, refined products, natural gas liquids, carbon dioxide, and chemicals. The company claims one of the best safety records among large pipeline operators, having reduced its number of spills by 60% and the spill volumes by 70% since 1996.

Since the ARCO merger, BP has increased its Olympic interest to 62.5% through an acquisition and is now majority shareholder in that operation. It also brought in an experienced management team headed by Bob Batch as president, a 20-year veteran who formerly was president of Amoco Remediation Management Services Corp.

Rebuilding trust in the pipeline system among the general public and government officials has been �a challenge,� said Cummings, �but I think we�ve come a long way."

BP-Olympic officials say they�re still trying to �raise public consciousness� about the need to notify authorities of any plan to excavate in pipeline right of way."

During the first week of October, pipeline officials had to intervene on 10 different occasions to keep people from digging around the pipeline. �We had to shut down one guy three times,� Cummings said.

Inspection program
Shortly after BP assumed management of Olympic through its BP Pipelines North America division, it instigated a multi-year safety and integrity program involving testing with the use of three state-of-the-art inspection devices.

For the next 3 years, workers annually will use a deformation tool to inspect for any changes in the roundness of the pipe, including dents from impacts or other changes resulting from ground movements.

That inspection schedule is far more frequent than the existing policy of doing similar tests at a minimum of every 5 years, officials said. Once BP-Olympic amasses 4 years of consecutive data from 2000-2003, the company will review the inspection schedule to determine if it should be changed.

A transverse magnetic flux inspection tool (TFI) will be used to check for seam-weld and other longitudinal defects in 2001-2002.

About 3 years after the TFI inspection, BP-Olympic will again run a high-resolution magnetic flux similar to the one used in its current internal inspection program. That tool uses a magnetic field to locate, identify, and characterize any potential flaws created during the manufacture of the pipe as well as metal loss from internal or external erosion.

Under that proposed inspection program, at least one tool will be run through the line each year over the next 3 years, starting with the TFI tool in the third quarter of this year. In most years, two different tools will be run through some segments, Cummings said.

Typical �prudent� pipeline inspection programs usually run such tools on a 5-10-year schedule, officials said.

To further evaluate the pipeline�s safety and integrity, BP-Olympic will use a mathematical cycle-stress analysis that computes the years the pipeline has been in operation, the pressures it has operated under, and other stress-related factors to calculate a conservative probable useful life-span for the pipe and a future re-inspection schedule.

They also will develop a sophisticated computer model to calculate the risks of various mishaps so that officials can set safety priorities and identify integrity-related projects along the pipeline route.

BP-Olympic officials already have inspected the pipe using deformation, magnetic, and ultrasound tools to identify 37 features on the 16-in. pipe between Ferndale and Allen Station, and 68 features from Allen Station to Renton in King County that workers will excavate and examine more closely.

Most of those features would not warrant visual inspection or repair under current industry standards or federal guidelines, said company officials. But in cooperation with OPS, they said, stricter standards are being applied to restore public confidence that the pipeline will operate safely.

Any portions of the pipe that require repair will be either replaced or repaired as appropriate, officials said. Further, to demonstrate the company�s repair criteria, a representative sampling of the cut out sections will be welded together and hydrotested at high pressures until sections fail. Such a test will scientifically demonstrate the conservative bent of the repair program, they said.

More in Companies