Saturday, June 02, 2001

Pipe, workers are faulted in oil spill

The Associated Press

        WINCHESTER, Ky. — A National Transportation Safety Board report indicates that a rupture in a dented pipe probably caused what has been called the worst crude oil spill in Kentucky history.

        The report, released Thursday, also claims that workers failed to shut down the system quickly enough to prevent widespread damage.

        Despite an alarm alerting Marathon Ashland Pipe Line controllers of pressure changes, two hours passed and 489,000 gallons of oil spilled onto a Winchester farm and golf course before workers turned off the pipeline, the report said.

        The 265-mile line that spans the state from Owensboro to Catlettsburg also seeped slime into Twomile Creek, a tributary of the Kentucky River.

        The safety board and state division of waste management have applauded Marathon's cleanup efforts, which cost the Findlay, Ohio-based company about $7.1 million.

        “Overall, everything's gone as we have expected — and even better,” said Fazi Sherkat, manager of the state's Superfund branch in the Division of Waste Management. “I attribute that to the action that was taken at the very beginning.”

        The report found that the dent where the pipe ruptured was first detected three years before the spill, but was too small to merit repair. The pipe was built in 1973.

        “Those kind of dings and dents are not that unusual,” said Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the safety board.

        External damage to pipes, created by anything from a backhoe to shifting rocks during floods and landslides, is the No. 1 cause of pipeline ruptures, said Patricia Klinger, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department's Research and Special Programs Administration.

        Ms. Klinger said corrosion was the second most likely reason for the leak and human error contributed to it.


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