Pipelines are transportation arteries carrying liquid and gaseous fuels. Pipelines are buried and above ground.


On February 8, 1997, a natural gas pipeline caught fire and exploded near Everson in remote, wooded, mountainous terrain and former glacier slide area. A 26-inch pipe carrying natural gas failed because of ground movement of water-saturated soil.

On February 9, 1997, another natural gas pipeline caught fire and exploded near Kalama in a remote area. Ground movement caused a natural gas pipeline break at a weld and an explosion resulted.

On June 10, 1999, a gasoline pipeline leak caught fire and exploded at Whatcom Falls Park in the city of Bellingham. Two 10-year-old boys burned to death. An 18-year old man was killed after fumes overcame him, he fell in Whatcom Creek and drowned. The ruptured gasoline line spewed 277,000 gallons of gas into the creek bed.

Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Assessment

Buried and exposed pipelines are vulnerable to breaks and punctures caused by earth movement, material failure, operator error, construction defects, and tampering. Fuel leaks cause hazardous materials spills, fires, and explosions. companies with pipeline in Washington include:

  • Williams Pipeline West (WPW) - owns an interstate pipeline with service from Canada, through Sumas, and north from New Mexico. WPW has lines through Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania, Klickitat, Benton, Yakima, Kittitas, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Adams, Walla Walla, Lincoln, Spokane, and Whitman counties. On the west side of Washington, the WPW has two parallel pipes. There are 20,174 miles of pipeline with 5-75 feet Right-of-Ways (ROWs). A 26-inch line was installed in 1956 and a 30-inch line was installed in the 1970's. The pipes are coated with a substance similar to mastic. An electron flow on the pipe monitors corrosion. Monitor and compressor stations with telemetry provide the distributor with safety information.

  • National Energy & Gas Transmission, Inc. -(formerly known as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Transmission-Northwest ) - has 36-inch and 42-inch pipelines coming from Canada, with service running through parts of Idaho and Spokane, Whitman, Columbia, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties in Washington State.

    Both PG&E and WPW have distributors that extend service to homes and businesses. The distribution lines are smaller with less capacity and lower impact. Distribution companies include:
  • The Olympic Pipe Line Company's pipeline is a 400-mile system carrying gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel at pressures of 1,400 pounds per square inch. The lines travel from refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties south to Renton, SeaTac Airport, Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland, Oregon. The line carries 14 million gallons a day. As of 1998, the Olympic Pipe Line Company had 42 spills in 32 years. Many were small, but 17 spills were over 2,000 gallons. The 1999 227,000-gallon gasoline spill in Bellingham killing three people was the largest.

Most pipelines are buried; however, there are exposed areas. When crossing rivers, the lines are either attached to a crossing structure or buried below the flood area. In Kalama, the pipe is under the train trestle. On the White River, it is under the riverbed. There are two sites on the Columbia River and both are under the riverbed.

Pipelines and right-of-ways are frequently surveyed for land movement. By law, an entire pipeline has 26 fixed wing or rotary wing aerial surveys per year. At least once a year, someone walks the ROW. When indications of potential problems occur, more surveys are conducted, especially following increased rainfall.

If a pipeline moves during land movement, it can sheer. When the sheer moves across abrasive materials or comes in contact with an ignition source, then sparks can cause the fuel to explode or burn. Monitoring markers are used to denote creeping soil movement for potential strain on the pipe.


Pipeline breaks and punctures are reduced by compliance with safety measures set by the Federal Pipeline Safety Law and following prescribed operations and maintenance procedures. Breaks are reduced by operating with proper pipeline pressure, installing correct thickness and grade of the steel and monitoring its wear, and reducing third party damage from excavators, driving over the lines, and encroachment of pipeline right-of-ways. Disruption of pipeline service impacts our ability to heat homes and businesses and fuel equipment. It can cause the price of fuel to increase.



© Copyright 2014 Washington Military Department - Emergency Management Division