Bellingham, Washington Olympic Pipeline Rupture

On June 10, 1999, in Bellingham, Washington, a gasoline pipeline operated by the Olympic Pipeline Company ruptured as the result of an improperly configured relief valve. Two hundred seventy-seven thousand gallons of gasoline spilled in the adjacent Hanna and Whatcom Creeks. The fumes were overwhelming, requiring the evacuation of local residents. The gasoline vapors soon exploded. Three children died. Bellingham’s water treatment plant that was located near the pipeline was destroyed as a result of the explosion. The authorities noted that the destruction and death toll was much lower than what would be expected from such a large explosion because the explosion was centered in a large forested park. As the result of this disaster Washington authorities discovered that schools adjacent to the Pipeline did not have adequate plans to evacuate the children from a pipeline emergency. This disaster resulted in criminal charges and convictions brought against the Olympic Pipeline Company. In June 2003, US District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein imposed $ 4 million in criminal fines to be awarded as an endowment to fund the Pipeline Safety Trust, a grass roots watchdog organization located in Bellingham, Washington which focuses on pipeline safety.