The Olympic Pipe Line Co shut down its 400-mile interstate liquid fuel pipeline system twice this past weekend after two separate fuel spills occurred at the company’s Mount Vernon control station.
As we watch the oil industry change the way and type of oil that’s being moved around the nation – a good example is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project — it’s good to know Olympic Pipe Line did the right thing by shutting down their pipeline until the causes of the small spills could be better understood.
The Olympic pipeline is the main provider for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels in Western Washington and Portland. This means disruptions are a pretty serious matter.
Saturday morning spillOlympic Pipe Line reported the first incident to state and federal authorities shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday March 31.
The company knew something had happened because a sensor designed to detect petroleum hydrocarbons in the station’s stormwater sump system automatically shut the station down.
Further investigation revealed the spill occurred after a testing port valve cracked and failed on the company’s 20-inch pipeline inspection gauge – or “pig” – launcher at the Mount Vernon station.
As a result, an estimated 84 gallons of diesel fuel sprayed out but was captured inside the station’s concrete fuel containment area.
The company hired a contractor to clean up the spill. They replaced the damaged valve and put the pipeline back in service about 12 hours later.
Pipeline ‘pigs’Companies install pipeline pigging systems to do all sorts of things inside a line without stopping the flow of the product in a pipeline.
Pigs can be used to clean the insides of a pipeline or measure pipe thickness and corrosion along the pipeline.
Since the Olympic pipeline transports about 4.4 billion gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuels annually in the same line, pigs are used to separate these different petroleum products.
The pig launcher is where these pigs are put into the pipeline. The launcher then is closed and the pressure inside the line is used to push it along down the pipe.
Sunday morning spillAt about 2 a.m. Sunday April 1, Ecology received a report that the same 20-inch pig launcher at the Mount Vernon station ran into another problem which shut the Olympic pipeline down again.
This time, a pressure gauge on the launcher broke and about 30 gallons of diesel fuel was released inside a pipe which ran back into the station’s sump system.
The sensor did its work again, automatically shutting down the station.
Olympic Pipe Line took the pig launcher out of service and put the pipeline back in service Sunday afternoon.
Uncommon occurrence merits investigationIt is uncommon for a pipeline company to have two fuel spills at the same location in such a short period of time.
And it’s even less common for Olympic Pipe Line to shut down their pipeline along the company’s 300-mile corridor from Blaine to Portland twice over a single weekend.
Ecology closely regulates Olympic Pipe Line. The company is required to maintain a robust oil spill contingency plan to ensure the firm can mount a quick and effective response to any oil spill.
These plans are continually tested and updated. We are pleased the company closely followed its plan:
- Olympic promptly reported the spills to Ecology.
- Their safety systems worked, keeping a major spill from occurring.
- The spilled oil stayed onsite at the Mount Vernon station; nothing reached the environment.
We will work with Olympic as the company evaluates the out-of-service pig launcher
More about Olympic Pipe LineThe Olympic pipeline is the primary source of fuel for Seattle’s Harbor Island, Sea-Tac Airport, Olympia, Vancouver, and Portland.
Fuels originate from four of the five petroleum refineries in Washington:
- BP Cherry Point Refinery, Blaine (currently shut down for repairs)
- ConocoPhillips Ferndale Refinery, Ferndale
- Tesoro Anacortes Refinery, Anacortes
- Shell Puget Sound Refinery, Anacortes
The Olympic Pipeline crosses either under or over most river systems that drain to Puget Sound and Western Washington from the Cascade Mountains.
Other regulated Washington fuel pipeline companiesBesides the Olympic pipeline, Ecology also regulates:
- Trans Mountain Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline in Western Washington
- Chevron Pipe Line Co., a finished fuel products pipeline in Eastern Washington
- ConocoPhillps Yellowstone Pipeline, a finished fuel products pipeline in Eastern Washington
- NuStar Pasco Pipeline, a finished fuel products pipeline in Eastern Washington
Getting to zero spillsOur goal is zero oil spills and Ecology works closely with all our regulated companies to prevent spills from occurring in the first place.
When spills do happen, the contingency plans required by Ecology help us ensure that prompt notification is followed by a rapid, aggressive, and well coordinated response.
It’s our policy to respond to and investigate every significant spill from regulated pipelines.
By doing so, we can prevent future spills and incorporate the lessons learned from incidents that do happen back into the company’s spill contingency plan to improve all future responses.
For more information, see Ecology's Spills Program.