RSPA wants to fine Olympic Pipeline $3 million

The US Department of Transportation's Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) Friday proposed a record $3.05 million civil penalty against Olympic Pipeline Co. The fine, by RSPA's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), was the largest ever proposed against a pipeline operator for safety violations.


Patrick Crow
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC�The US Department of Transportation's Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) Friday proposed a record $3.05 million civil penalty against Olympic Pipeline Co. The fine, by RSPA's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), was the largest ever proposed against a pipeline operator for safety violations.

An Olympic line in Bellingham, Wash., ruptured last June, killing three persons (OGJ, Nov. 8, 1999, p. 27).

Transportation Sec. Rodney Slater said, "Tragic events like this pipeline failure must never happen again. This civil penalty is one of a series of actions we have [taken] and are taking to help protect the people and environment along this pipeline."

Each of the proposed fines was the maximum amount allowed by law.

RSPA Administrator Kelley Coyner said, "In cases like this, where a pipeline operator fails to take appropriate actions to ensure safety, we will penalize the company to the fullest extent possible to ensure full compliance with federal safety rules."

Allegations
OPS alleged that Olympic failed to conduct adequate damage prevention efforts�specifically, that it did not have a company representative present during third-party excavation near its pipeline. It proposed a $25,000 fine.

It also said Olympic employees discovered an unsafe condition during internal testing and continued to operate the pipeline after testing without correcting the problem. The proposed fine is $500,000.

OPS said the pipeline failed to ensure that the employees on duty at the time of the accident were trained in accordance with federal pipeline safety regulations. For that, it proposed a $500,000 fine.

It said Olympic's supervisory control and data acquisition system, the computer system that controls the line, performed irregularly. It said Olympic shut down the pipeline, then restarted it without ensuring that it could operate safely. OPS proposed a $25,000 fine for this violation.

Further, the agency said Olympic failed to modify its operations, maintenance, and emergency plans when it built the Bayview products terminal, 15 miles south of Bellingham. It proposed a $500,000 fine. And OPS said Olympic failed to adequately test relief valves at the Bayview terminal to ensure they were functioning properly, for which it requested a $500,000 fine.

It also said valves at Bayview "shut down several times unintentionally, an event that indicates an abnormal situation. Olympic failed to respond to, investigate, and correct those shutdowns." The agency proposed a $500,000 fine.

And OPS said Olympic failed to maintain the required daily operating records that record the discharge pressure at each pump station and any abnormal events. The proposed fine for this is $500,000.

Olympic has the right to contest each penalty to reduce the amount of the proposed fines.

Testing continues
OPS said that, after the rupture, it ordered the pipeline shut down for repairs and testing. Those are continuing, and the line is still out of commission.

OPS said it has stationed a full-time inspector in Washington State and has conducted a joint inspection with the state pipeline office for all pipelines there. OPS also participated in Gov. Gary Locke's pipeline safety task force.

The agency noted that the Clinton administration has proposed "The Pipeline Safety and Community Protection Act" to improve the safety of oil and gas pipelines and strengthen citizens' right to know about lines in their communities. Neither house of Congress has approved the bill yet.

Coyner said, "The administration's bill is the most comprehensive pipeline safety legislation in the nation's history, and it presents an opportunity that should not be missed."

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