The Problem

Public trust in pipeline safety institutions evaporated in the aftermath of the June 10, 1999 Olympic Pipe Line Company disaster in Bellingham, Washington. On that day 225,000 gallons of gasoline spilled into Whatcom Creek in a city park and exploded, killing 10-year-olds Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas and 18-year-old Liam Wood, and causing millions of dollars of damage to property and the environment (for a complete history of this tragedy click here). The severity of the explosion and subsequent investigation reports left the public with the knowledge that there are serious problems with pipeline safety management and regulation at every level. Fatalities and environmental damage are not unique to the Bellingham incident. Just over a year later, on August 19, 2000, a gas pipeline rupture near Carlsbad, New Mexico killed twelve people, including five children. More recently, a neighborhood was destroyed in San Bruno, CA when a PG&E natural gas transmission pipeline blew up, killing 8 people, injuring dozens more and fed a firestorm that leveled nearly 40 houses.  A city block in Allentown, PA was destroyed and 5 people were killed by an explosion caused by a failed cast iron gas distribution pipeline.  Calhoun County, Michigan was the site of the single largest onshore spill in US history when an Enbridge pipeline carrying diluted bitumen ruptured near the town of Marshall, spilling over 1 million gallons into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River, and causing the relocation of over 100 families.

These and many other tragedies have forced communities nationwide to look more closely at how pipeline safety, energy policies and practices affect their residents and their environments.

There are six primary reasons why pipeline disasters occur:

  1. Pipeline operators fail to maintain adequate release prevention and response systems,
  2. Regulatory agencies provide ineffective and inadequate regulation and enforcement,
  3. Federal and state elected officials fail to pass laws strong enough to protect the environment and public safety and fail to give regulatory agencies the funds they need,
  4. Residents and local governments aren’t paying attention, or do not have access to the information that allows them to participate,
  5. There is inadequate liability for releases from pipelines, and
  6. This country lacks a comprehensive and coherent energy policy that is focused on increased conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources.

The Solution

An important way to both reverse the inadequacies of industry practice, regulation and legislation and restore public confidence in pipeline safety is to create a mechanism that gives the public access to technical and organizational resources. Only then can those most at risk from accidents and mismanagement make important contributions to the policy process and to the implementation of environmental and safety-related changes. When the public, including local residents, are substantially involved in the policy-making process, vigilance and trust will develop that is necessary to restore confidence and safety, changing the present system from confrontation to consensus, from accident response to accident prevention.

Testimony To Congress

As part of our effort to reverse the inadequacies of the industry practice the Pipeline Safety Trust has testified before congress on several occasions. For the latest testimonies click here.