Don't leave pipeline safety to 'experts'
Editorial Opinion

The Bellingham Herald
21 February, 2002

GOVERNMENT: Federal, state officials should inspect Williams pipeline on Nooksack River.

A review of the facts:

  • The Williams 26-inch diameter natural gas pipeline running through the Nooksack River is exposed to rushing water.
  • Williams is concerned enough about the safety risk to want to bury the line more than 25 feet underground.
  • The company says it cannot rebury the line until it completes a lengthy permitting process.
  • Five years ago, the pipeline ruptured 10 miles north of the exposed site.

A Whatcom County flood engineer said she's "not overly concerned about it because they (Williams) don't seem to be... and they're the pipeline experts."

In Whatcom County, we know better than to leave pipeline safety to pipeline companies. We know regulations are sparse. We know too well the damage pipelines can cause. An explosion in a natural gas line in a rural environment would certainly not produce the death and devastation of the liquid fuel Olympic Pipe Line Co. pipeline explosion in Whatcom Falls Park in 1999, but a big blast could ignite a fire, send large amounts of debris downstream or harm anyone who happened to be nearby at the time.

How is it that the pipeline can be considered a possible threat but still be operating at full capacity? Why aren't permits being fast-tracked? It seems the only solution being offered is Williams keeping its fingers crossed that nothing will happen before it gets the chance to bore a deep hole and rebury the line. Meanwhile, rocks, branches, rushing water and even boats pose a threat to the line's integrity.

Federal and state pipeline officials should be taking an interest in inspecting this line and determining whether it should continue to operate under present conditions.

Williams is currently trying to get a gas line through Whatcom County to serve British Columbia. It's under scrutiny and should be putting its best foot forward. If this is its idea of earning trust, we're in trouble.

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