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Thursday, September 13, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Federal grand jury indicts Olympic Pipeline in deadly 1999 Bellingham explosion

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — A federal grand jury today returned a seven-count indictment in the June 1999 pipeline explosion that killed three people in a Bellingham park.

The indictment names the Olympic Pipeline Co., Equilon Pipeline Co., and three of their officers or employees: Frank Hopf Jr., Ronald Dean Brentson and Kevin Scott Dyvig.

Five of the counts allege felony violations of the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Act. The two others allege misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act by negligent discharge of oil into a navigable water of the United States.

"This means there will be a trial," said Seattle attorney John Wolfe, who represents Hopf.

Olympic, which no longer operates the line, declined comment but said it will be reviewing the indictment with its attorneys.

"It continues to be Olympic's primary objective to operate its pipeline safely, and this commitment is shared by BP, Olympic's new operator," the company said in a news release.

A statement from Wolfe expressed disappointment "that the government has decided to allege that Frank Hopf engaged in criminal conduct in connection with the terrible accident" and said Hopf would "vigorously defend himself."

Dyvig faces one misdemeanor charge, Hopf faces one misdemeanor and one felony, and Brentson faces three felony counts. Brentson was Olympic's supervisor of product movement and Hopf was a vice president. Dyvig was an operations controller.

A rupture in the 400-mile pipeline system on June 10, 1999, released 229,000 gallons of fuel, causing a fireball that devastated a stretch of Whatcom Creek through Bellingham. Two 10-year-old boys — Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas — were killed along with fly fisherman Liam Wood, 18.

The felony counts allege the defendant companies "did knowingly and willfully violate a minimum safety standard for interstate pipelines."

The indictment alleges the operation of the Bayview terminal and pumping station by Olympic and Equilon occurred without adequate testing of the pipeline's incoming surge relief valve. A second felony count concerns the companies' and Brentson's alleged failure to correct the malfunctioning valve.

A third felony count faults the operators and Brentson for failure to investigate and correct the cause of repeated shutdowns of the Bayview facility.

The companies, Brentson and Hopf also are charged with failure to provide adequate training for those working on the line.

The final count accuses the two companies of failing to properly maintain the incoming surge-relief valve.

At the time of the blast, Olympic was owned by Arco, Equilon Enterprises and GATX. Houston-based Equilon, a joint venture of Texaco and Shell, operated the line. Equilon also was the owner of a refinery in nearby Anacortes, where an explosion and fire killed six workers in November 1998.

BP took over Olympic last summer after acquiring Arco, which had been a minority partner in the company. BP also bought the shares of another minority partner, which gave it 62.5 percent ownership.

BP says it has bolstered the inspection, testing and operation of the line and replaced Equilon officials who held management positions.

Equilon has said Olympic was a separate entity at the time of the rupture, solely responsible for the operation of the pipeline. The company has acknowledged its position "conflicts with statements on record" about the operation of the pipeline.

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