On June 10, 1999, a gas pipeline in Bellingham’s Whatcom Falls Park exploded, killing three young people. The legacy of that event is shared grief and sense of loss in the community that the city feels to this day, five years later. (See Ceremony honors pipeline blast victims and Whatcom Falls pipeline disaster)
The explosion and deaths also launched a series of lawsuits, and resulted in a pipeline safety trust being set up, in memory of the deceased, funded by $4 million in criminal fines paid by Shell.
The Bellingham tragedy happened only a short drive from Vancouver, and could be seen from the ferry sailing from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay. It received almost no attention in British Columbia, however.
We should ask why? If a pipeline killed three kids in Squamish or Abbotsford, Vancouver media would howl. Why, when three kids are killed in Bellingham, will our media see no evil, hear no cries of woe, and remain silent? Shame.
There are a number of pipelines from British Columbia connecting to pipelines in the United States. Pipelines in BC are regulated by either the National Energy Board or the BC Oil and Gas Commission. Pipeline incident data is generally available in the US, nationally in Canada, and in Alberta.
But obtaining incident data in British Columbia took a year, including formal requests under the Freedom Of Information Act, and an appeal to the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner.
GSX Pipeline activists on Vancouver Island were aware of Bellingham, met with activists in Bellingham, and were concerned with pipeline safety. The website of the GSX Concerned Citizens Coalition contains a number of postings and essays related to pipeline safety and Bellingham.
After the Bellingham explosion, the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) and Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) published results of an investigation into pipeline operators in the state, looking at inspection and testing records. One of the worst records belongs to Williams – BC Hydro’s partner in the GSX Pipeline project.
In British Columbia, we are farther today from a regulatory regime that can ensure pipelines that won’t leak, explode, and kill, than we have been since the Bellingham incident.
Recent legislation gutting environmental assessments, and implementing “streamlined” regulatory processes, puts the lives of British Columbians at risk.
Our politicians, our regulators, and our news media have been remiss. We in British Columbia have learned nothing from Bellingham.