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Pipeline Experts Probe BP Spill

September 14, 2006|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

California pipeline safety experts are investigating a 43,000-gallon gas oil spill from a BP pipeline in Long Beach that has heightened concerns about the company's safety record.

The leak occurred in a 12-inch-wide steel pipeline that runs four miles from a BP terminal in the Port of Long Beach to the BP Carson refinery.

The spill did not reach water, but it contaminated part of a rail storage yard.

The spill is drawing attention to the safety of pipelines in urban areas such as Los Angeles County, where many lines are aging and not built to allow "pigging," which some experts call the most reliable way to detect leaks and corrosion.

The method tests for leaks and corrosion by sending a projectile called a "smart pig" through a pipeline.

"Pigging is the best technology available," said Bob Gorham, division chief for pipeline safety at the State Fire Marshal's Office. Pipelines designed since 1984 have to be designed for pigging, he said.

But the steel pipe in Long Beach, dating from 1956, contained too many turns to be inspected with pigging, Gorham and a BP spokesman said Wednesday.

The BP refinery has a large number of interconnected pipes between the terminal, tanks and the refinery, said BP spokesman Scott Dean.

He said that means a number of lines intersect, making pigging impossible in those lines.

BP instead used a method called hydro-testing, in which the pipeline is filled with water under pressure; the pipeline was found to be safe during the last hydro-testing in 2004, Dean said. The state requires pigging or hydro-testing every five years.

The Long Beach spill came amid congressional hearings into the cause of a major spill and corrosion in BP pipelines in Alaska.

Much of the congressional questioning has focused on why BP did not use pigging to detect the leaks in the Alaska pipelines earlier.

BP faced tough questioning at a House Transportation Committee session Wednesday.

News of the Long Beach spill was not announced to the media until BP circulated a news release at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Some government officials expressed concern that they were not told earlier of the leak.

Long Beach City Manager Gerald R. Miller did not hear about the spill until Monday, a spokesman said.

"We do think there could have been a little better way of notifying our senior managers and elected officials," spokesman Ed Kamlan said.

deborah.schoch@latimes.com

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