June 10, 1999 as Described by the
Pipeline Safety Trust
From testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives by Carl Weimer in 2000
On June 10th, Liam Wood was doing exactly what any young man his age might choose to do on a warm spring day. He went fishing in the gorge of a beautiful creek lined with 100 foot tall trees, and dripping with moss and ferns. An incredible northwest scene! Perhaps he went out of love of the sport. Perhaps he went to let the cool sound of the creek wash some cares away. Whatever the reason, he found more than anyone in our community could ever have dreamed of.
While fishing on June 10th, Liam Wood found a quarter million gallons of gasoline flowing down the beautiful creek in the heart of our city. The fumes overwhelmed him and he fell in the creek and drowned before the fuel was even ignited. When ignition occurred, a fireball exploded burning two young children, Stephen Tsiorvas and Wade King, to death. That such a beautiful place could turn so terrifying in just an instant is one of the visions that has mobilized the citizens of Bellingham to work to make sure that such a needless tragedy never happens again — anywhere in the country. Such a vision still haunts many of us with children, and it is the reason I am here today talking with you, the people who can ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.
From a speech by Carl Weimer at the five year anniversary of June 10,1999
Five years ago today because of negligence, poor management, lack of oversight and near nonexistent regulations, the Olympic Pipe Line Co.’s pipeline burst and then exploded. In a flash three of our own were killed, Whatcom Creek was dead and our community was sent into a deep sense of loss and mourning. Many of us can still remember the sick feeling that came over us as we watched that ominous black cloud rise overhead.
Fortunately for the country, this community was reawakened from our grief by the noise of industry public-relations professionals. They told us that “pipelines are the safest way to move gas,” “accidents like this are very rare,” “eating peanut butter is more dangerous than living by a pipeline,” and that they would have the pipeline fixed and back in the ground in no time.
In a flash, Bellingham did something very rare, and at a level previously unheard of. We said “No!” No, you are not restarting your pipeline before we know why it burst. No, we are not going to accept all your half-truths and twisted logic. No, we don’t understand why there are no regulations to prevent this. No, we won’t let this happen again, anywhere.
The industry winked and guffawed at our naivetÃ©, but in the end, Olympic Pipe Line Co.’s pipeline stayed closed longer than any other pipeline in U.S. history, and for the first time pipeline employees went to jail for their negligence. Congress and state legislatures passed new pipeline laws, agencies drew up new rules, oversight committees were formed, and people in communities around the country began asking similar questions about pipeline safety. In just five years, Bellingham’s efforts have become synonymous with when pipeline safety began to increase in this country, and for that we should all feel pride.