Olympic Pipeline Incident


On June 10, 1999 an Olympic Pipe Line Company pipeline ruptured and spilled over 236,000 gallons of gasoline into Hanna and Whatcom Creeks. The resulting explosion consisted of a fireball which raced one and one-half miles down Whatcom Creek and created a smoke plume twenty to thirty thousand feet high.

Three people were killed – two ten-year old boys and an 18-year old young man who was fishing in Whatcom Creek. Eight people were injured and extensive damage incurred over the mile and one-half length of Whatcom Creek.

Approximately 26 acres of trees and vegetation were burned during the incident, including 16 acres of mature second-growth forest within Whatcom Falls Park and 10 acres of third- or fourth-generation floodplain forest and meadow west of the park.

Whatcom Creek before and after the explosion

Fish and wildlife impacts were impossible to fully quantify. Field staff did collect or observe more than 100,000 dead salmon, trout, lamprey, and crayfish in the days following the fire. Scientists concluded that all aquatic life in three miles of Whatcom Creek was killed through direct contact with the fuel or fumes, or when the fuel ignited.

Response to the pipeline incident has been carried out under the federal Oil Pollution Act and Washington’s Water Pollution Control Act and Oil and Hazardous Substance Spill Prevention and Response Act. An oversight board, called the Natural Resource Trustees was established; its members include: the United States Department of Commerce as represented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the United States Department of the Interior as represented by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; the State of Washington as represented by the Department of Ecology; the City of Bellingham; the Lummi Nation of Washington; and the Nooksack Tribe of Washington.

The Trustees and the Olympic Pipe Line Company established a fund of $500,000 that funded long-term monitoring and maintenance activities related to this incident through 2020. Long-term monitoring and maintenance support is now included as part of the City’s operational budget using a variety of funding sources.

Restoration Plan

The Monitoring and Maintenance Plan Associated with the Whatcom Creek Restoration Plan Developed for the June 10, 1999 Olympic Pipe Line Gasoline Spill (Plan) was established in 2006 for early restoration projects. The purpose of the Plan was to create protocols for documenting environmental recovery, evaluating long-term performance, and providing a routine for appropriate maintenance activities using an adaptive management approach. Early projects include those on Cemetery Creek and Salmon Park. As required in the 2006 Plan, the City monitored the Cemetery Creek and Salmon Park restoration sites for a period of 10 Years. Monitoring began in 2007 after project construction and continued through 2016.

The following reports are now available: