Disaster may finally lead to responsible oversight

PI Letters to the Editor

Monday, August 9, 1999

BELLINGHAM PIPELINE

The Seattle P-I deserves praise for its insightful coverage of the Olympic Pipeline disaster in Bellingham. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to initiate such in-depth coverage of one of the oil industry’s numerous expansion projects proposed for this region. . . .

I am particularly grateful to the attention being given to the lack of oversight provided by the Office of Pipeline Safety. One cannot be surprised by the Olympic Pipeline Company’s efforts to cut corners on the inspection of their pipeline, as evidenced by their spill history, given the oil industry’s profit driven motivation. That is precisely why the public needs to be able to rely on an adequate level of government oversight of this industry.

However, it is all too common that the elected officials charged with overseeing the Office of Pipeline Safety are themselves receiving large sums of money from the oil and gas industry.

More than a year ago I went to D.C. as a board member of the Cascade Columbia Alliance, an organization formed to oppose Olympic’s expansion across the Cascades. I met with the Board of the National Pipeline Reform Coalition and the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) to learn about problems with pipelines nationally and to gain some better understanding about the pipelines which run through Washington State. When I asked the staff at OPS for a copy of a map showing the pipeline routes through Washington State they told me that the industry provides them with the maps and they are not available to the public, even to purchase.

This was my first indication that the regulated community was too close with the regulators.

I called the NTSB recently to inquire about their investigative authority over marine accidents having felt the same problem permeates the relationship between the maritime industry and the Coast Guard. I was told that the only transportation agency the NTSB does not have primary investigative oversight authority is the Coast Guard. Therefore, when incidents like the New Carissa occur the Coast Guard can keep the NTSB from issuing their own reports.

Fortunately, the NTSB is currently seeking authority from Congress to keep the Coast Guard from being responsible for evaluating their own operations. The fact that the Coast Guard’s investigation of the Exxon Valdez lead to the conclusion that the spill was caused by the “unintentional release of oil” suggests that we need the NTSB if we are ever to learn from our mistakes. . . .

Fred Felleman
NW Director
Ocean Advocates, Seattle

~ by fredfelleman on August 9, 1999.

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