$36 million in penalties urged in Bellingham pipeline blast
By Lewis Kamb

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
14 June 2003

Prosecutors want three Olympic employees sent to prison

Federal prosecutors have recommended that the Olympic Pipe Line Co. and four other defendants in a case stemming from the 1999 pipeline explosion that killed three people in Bellingham pay more than $36 million in criminal and civil penalties and for related pipeline-safety and community-service projects.

The recommendations, made as part of a plea agreement, also call for Shell Pipeline Co. -- the incoming managing partner of the Olympic pipeline -- to create what prosecutors describe as "an unprecedented, nationwide pipeline- system compliance plan" at an estimated cost of $62 million.

In addition, prosecutors have asked that two of the three men most responsible for supervising the pipeline at the time of the fiery blast be given federal prison terms when U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein announces her sentences in the case Wednesday.

"It is the government's goal that this prosecution will serve as the baseline from which future conduct is measured to ensure that no other families will lose children, and no other community will endure the tragedy suffered by Bellingham on June 10, 1999," prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Two 10-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man died as a result of the pipeline accident.

The prosecutors' recommendations, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, are among the final steps in plea arrangements with Olympic and its managing partner, Equilon Pipeline Co., and three employees of Olympic when the liquid-fuel line ruptured.

A federal investigation of the rupture and ensuing explosion, and of Olympic's management of its 400 miles of pipelines, culminated in a six-count indictment.

The charges ranged from failures in the company's general operations to violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

In December, Olympic and three employees -- Frank Hopf Jr., Ronald Brentson and Kevin Dyvig -- each pleaded guilty to the counts against them. Equilon, which bought out Olympic's managing partner, Texaco Pipeline Inc. following the explosion and assumed its liabilities, pleaded no contest.

The prosecutors' recommendations essentially agree with those suggested by each defendant in documents also filed in federal court this week.

Beyond $15 million in penalties called for against Equilon, prosecutors encourage the court to approve a plan by Shell Pipeline Co., Equilon's corporate successor, to develop and implement "an unprecedented, nationwide pipeline-system compliance plan valued at up to $62 million."

The plan would, among other measures, call for more frequent and aggressive pipeline inspections, set immediate response standards for pipeline defects and improve testing and auditing of pipeline operations. It would cover some 2,100 miles of pipelines across the country that Shell operates.

Under the recommendations, Equilon's $15 million penalty would be paid over five years, with $5 million going toward two community-service projects in Bellingham.

Prosecutors also recommend that Olympic pay a $6 million fine over five years and require the company to design its own compliance plan to improve pipeline safety. Prosecutors say that plan will cost the company an estimated $15 million.

In addition, prosecutors have recommended that Hopf, the manager and vice president of Olympic at the time of the explosion, serve six months in federal prison and pay a $1,000 fine; Brentson, an employee in charge of the computer- control center for the pipeline, serve three months in prison and pay a $1,000 fine; and Dyvig, a control-center operator responsible for monitoring the section of pipeline that ruptured, get one year of probation and pay a $1,000 fine.

P-I reporter Lewis Kamb can be reached at 206-448-8336 or lewiskamb@seattlepi.com

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