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It’s been a week since Conoco-Phillips says they noticed a “drop in pressure” in their gasoline pipeline between Billings and Spokane. And we’re still waiting for an explanation.

Booms are in the Coeur d’Alene River. Workers in hard hats and pickup trucks are thick in the Enaville to Cataldo stretch of pipeline in question. Promises of testing and inspection and results have been issued, but we’re still waiting for results. Even if there’s no leak and the whole “loss of pressure” thing is some sort of unfortunate technological false alarm, it shouldn’t take a week to figure it out.

Lately, we’ve heard from several nearby residents now that cleanup workers and their “security” are hard-line and tight-lipped about what is happening along the possibly leaky pipeline. We understand that it must be frustrating to the company that it can’t find the problem, but it’s even more frustrating to the nearby public. Indeed, information has been lacking from the beginning. When did the company and responsible agencies plan to tell the public? KEA, from what we can tell, was first to break the news.

We’re certainly hoping that whatever the problem is, it isn’t catastrophic. Still, and regardless, this whole situation is not acceptable. Under no circumstance should it take a week to diagnose a gasoline pipeline problem.

 

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From an update we received this morning, it seems they still haven’t found a spill but still haven’t found the problem in the pipeline yet either. According to this EPA update, there are some 3000 barrels of oil in the suspect section of pipeline.

CURRENT STATUS:   At this time, no loss of pipeline integrity has been discovered, to date.  The crews have completed surface and aerial reconnaissance of a 7 mile section of pipeline between Enaville, ID and Cataldo, ID with no evidence of a leak discovered.  Based on the latest information, crews have isolated the pressure drop to this 7 mile section of pipeline and is concentrating their investigation efforts in this location.

Five surface reconnaissance crews and two aerial reconnaissance sorties were deployed today.  The responsible party estimates that approximately 3,091 barrels of unleaded gasoline still remain in the suspect section of the pipe (7 mile stretch).  The responsible party has approximately 80 personnel in the field conducting command and control and reconnaissance with crews ready to initiate emergency response and sampling, if needed.

NEXT STEPS:  An acoustic mission ball (tool to check pipe integrity) is being shipped to the site and will be deployed tomorrow.  This device will be launched in the pipeline and will acoustically listen for leaks as it travels through the suspect section.  The timeline for the deployment of the acoustic survey instrument is approximately tomorrow afternoon.  Transit time will be approximately 15 hours with preliminary data being available from the tool sometime midday Friday, 7 October 2011.

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We thought the Yellowstone River oil spill this past summer was a little close for comfort. Well, guess what. We got word late yesterday afternoon, with some additional information trickling in to us today that a 10-inch Conoco-Phillips pipeline, pumping unleaded gasoline from Billings to Spokane is suffering a “slow drop in pressure” somewhere between Pritchard and Cataldo.  The current focus of attention is in the Enaville to Cataldo stretch.

From an email from Sandy Von Behren in Kootenai County’s Department of Emergency Management:

Yellowstone Pipeline (Conoco/Phillips) identified a small reduction in pressure in their 10” high pressure petroleum pipeline between Prichard and Cataldo this past Saturday.  Yellowstone reps have walked the entire line between Prichard and Cataldo and have not located any indication of the leak on the surface.  There are a couple of areas where the pipeline is exposed in the Coeur d’Alene River, but they were aware of this before and had sought permits to mitigate that particular issue. 

They are currently in full response running 24-7 operations with an estimated 40 staff in place and another 40 coming this way.  They plan to purge the line of fuel and place a pig (a pipeline inspection gauge) in the pipeline using water to propel it as they continue to assess for any leakage.  If they do not find any leakage they may have to start digging up the pipeline in the area of concern.  They have placed skirting and absorbent booms as a precautionary measure in the Coeur d’Alene River just below the community of Kingston and also at the Cataldo boat launch.  Yellowstone Pipeline is setting up a command post this afternoon at the Silver Mountain Resort.

An update this morning from DEQ states:

 Saturday the [Conoco-Philips] control center noted a slow drop in pressure in a 10 inch pipeline carrying unleaded gasoline between Prichard and Cataldo.  C-P responded by lowering the pressure in the line from 900 psi to less than 400 psi where it currently remains. 

C-P has monitors watching the river crossings.  A containment boom has been placed at Cataldo below the boat launch and along River Road at Kingston.  C-P currently is aware of two pipeline exposures in the river, one near Silver Bridge on the NF CdA River and one that was discovered last week at Kingston.  The Silver Bridge exposure has grout bags draped over the pipe until a more permanent fix is done next year.  The other exposure remains as it was found. 

The area of interest is now between Enaville and Cataldo.

 

Here’s hoping we don’t have (another) huge mess on our hands in the Coeur d’Alene basin.

 

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