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SAN FERNANDO : Meeting to Address Ruptured Pipeline

November 17, 1994|TIM MAY

Few residents of the city of San Fernando knew that a section of crude oil pipeline ran less than three feet beneath the classrooms of O'Melveny Elementary School--until the Northridge earthquake struck.

The 6.8-magnitude shocker caused the 10-inch diameter steel pipe to rupture and explode near the school, igniting fires that seriously injured a man and torched homes and vehicles along Wolfskill Street.

Since then, residents and city officials have monitored plans for the line--shut down since the explosion--with vigilance.

At a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at San Fernando City Hall, representatives from Atlantic Richfield Co., owner of the 130-mile Four Corners Pipe Line, and an engineer from the state fire marshal's office will discuss the possibility of reopening, rerouting or permanently closing the line.

The line, which connects Kern County oil fields to South Bay refineries, runs roughly north to south through the eastern section of town beneath O'Melveny Street.

Arco officials said Wednesday that the company has no immediate plans to reopen the 70-year-old crude oil conduit, one of two Arco-owned lines running through San Fernando. Since the earthquake, oil has been pumped through another line.

But city and state officials said Arco is contemplating several scenarios for the line, which burst at nine different points after the Northridge quake.

Residents and parents of children who attend O'Melveny Elementary School were shocked to learn the pipeline ran just a few feet beneath the area where hundreds of children romp.

"The line goes right under the classrooms," said Elizabeth McCabe of Mission Hills, whose daughter is in second grade at O'Melveny. "It goes right under where the children line up for their emergency drills. We never even knew about it. Somebody should have told us."

After the explosion, the state fire marshal's office, which oversees pipeline safety, investigated the condition of the pipe, originally laid in the 1920s.

"If they want to reopen that line," said Nancy Wolfe, chief of the pipeline safety division for the fire marshal's office, "then Arco will have to follow the parameters we put down, including conducting costly tests and upgrading major segments of the line. Our understanding is that they are going to keep it closed down."

But Wolfe and Miriam Abad, administrative assistant in San Fernando's public works department, both said they have discussed with Arco other possibilities, including reopening the line and routing it away from the elementary school. Another possibility would be to lay a new line running parallel to Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

Residents say the bottom line is that the community be kept apprised of the situation. "The pipeline is still on many people's minds," McCabe said. "People were extremely fearful after it exploded."

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