Olympic Pipeline Rupture and Subsequent Fire

Event Year: 1999 Reliability: Confirmed
Country: United States
Industry Type: Petroleum

At about 3:28 pm PDT, a 16 inch diameter steel pipeline ruptured and released about 237,000 gallons of gasoline into a creek that flowed through Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, WA. About 1 1/2 hours after the rupture, the gasoline ignited and burned approximately 1 1/2 miles along the creek. (#1)

A number of events led to the rupture of the pipeline. First, was excavation damage done to the pipeline, possibly between 1993 and 1994. Second, was the construction and startup of a new products terminal, where pressure relief valves that were installed, were improperly configured or adjusted. Finally, on the day of the accident, the SCADA system that controllers used to operate the pipeline became unresponsive, (possibly due to the practice of performing database development work on the system while it was being used to operate the pipeline), making it difficult for controllers to analyze pipeline conditions and make timely responses to operational problems. (#1)


Two 10 year old boys and an 18 year old young man died as a result of the accident. Eight additional injuries were documented. A single-family residence and the city’s water treatment plant were severly damaged. Fines and litigation could bring the total damages into the hundreds of millions of dollars. As of Jan 2002, total property damages were $45 million. (#1)

Action Description: Computers have been upgraded. Physical and electronic security of the SCADA systems have been addressed. All dialup modems and external connections have been removed. All connections to SCADA system now have VPNs. Virus protection has been added to administration workstations. SCADA and VMS security audit logs are reviewed routinely and network vulnerability assessments are conducted quarterly. (#1)