Seattle Fuel Supply Threatened

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Seattle Fuel Supply Threatened

SEATTLE -- Mayor Greg Nickels said he will shut down the Seattle portion of the Olympic pipeline next month if the owner of the line doesn't perform specific safety tests, which carries more than 8 million gallons of fuel a week through the city.

Nickels plans to close that section of the pipeline Aug. 26 unless the company complies, The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported.

Olympic Pipe Line Co. officials have said the high-pressure water test known as hydrostatic testing isn't necessary or practical and that Nickels has no authority to shut the line down. The federal government agrees.

Officials with the federal Office of Pipeline Safety, which regulates fuel pipelines, say there is no need for the hydrostatic testing that Nickels wants -- and further, that the city can't close the pipeline.

"We're the federal pipeline safety authority, and we write the rules," said Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Mitchell.

State regulators say they have authority over the operation of the "intrastate line" in question. But they have yet to take a position on Nickels' threats against Olympic.

Dan Cummings, a spokesman for Olympic, said the company hopes to meet with the city and state regulators to address the city's concerns very shortly "so we can keep the pipeline running."

He said the company is prepared to bring in state and federal pipeline authorities to help the company press its case.

Nickels said safety concerns combined with the company's bankruptcy filing prompted his action. In 1999, a section of the pipeline exploded in Bellingham, killing three people, including two children.

According to city officials, during inspections over the last three years Olympic has discovered 131 irregularities in the eight-mile pipe section that passes through Seattle. Nickels said he is concerned the company doesn't have the resources to run the pipeline safely.

"I'm not willing to take the word of a bankrupt pipeline company," Nickels said. "I want convincing proof that the pipeline is safe."

In a letter sent to Nickels last week, Bobby Talley, Olympic president, said there have already been several tests, and there will be more in the fall.

However, the company refuses to do the high-pressure water tests demanded by the mayor.

If the Seattle branch of the line is closed, fuel from oil refineries will instead be shipped through the city on barges and tanker trucks, the company says. The fuel is used by a majority of gas stations in the Seattle area, as well as by the ferry system, cruise ships and other vessels.

BP Pipelines North America and Shell Pipeline Co. own Olympic Pipe Line, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March.