Remembering the Bellingham pipeline tragedy

Remembering the Bellingham pipeline tragedy

Honoring the 25-year anniversary of the deadly Bellingham Whatcom Falls Park explosion


On this day 25 years ago, a pipeline carrying gasoline through Bellingham’s Whatcom Falls Park exploded. The explosion killed three young people, injured eight others, leaked more than a quarter million gallons of fuel into the environment, and caused more than $58 million in property damage. The emotional scars of that tragic event are still with us. This tragedy, the result of a series of errors by the operator and an excavator, was entirely preventable.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, Washington’s congressional leaders advocated for and ultimately succeeded in tightening regulation of natural gas and liquid fuel pipelines. The Pipeline Safety Act of 2002 gave federal safety regulators the authority and resources they needed, improved the training of pipeline personnel, increased penalties for safety violations, and updated and improved inspection practices.  

Significantly, the law also expanded the authority of states to regulate pipeline safety. Today, the UTC regulates the safety practices of operators of more than 45,000 miles of natural gas and liquid fuels pipelines in Washington state. The UTC continues to take this role seriously.

The UTC:

  • Directed operators to remove or replace all cast iron and bare steel pipelines.
  • Regularly inspects the pipelines and the records of operators to ensure pipeline personnel are adequately trained and follow federal safety procedures, and that their books and records are complete and up to date.
  • Provides resources, including public maps of pipelines traversing their communities and neighborhoods.
  • Requires and reviews pipeline operators’ safety plans to minimize methane leaks from existing pipelines.
  • Enforces requirements that operators, contractors, local governments, and citizens call 8-1-1 for free locates of underground facilities before they dig.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Bellingham pipeline tragedy, the UTC recommits to prioritizing pipeline safety, improving safety regulation, investigating pipeline accidents, raising public awareness of pipeline safety, and vigorously enforcing the laws and regulations governing the operations of natural gas and liquid fuel pipelines. We must not forget what the people of Bellingham suffered in 1999, and we must all work diligently each and every day to prevent future tragedies like that in Bellingham from happening again.


Pipeline Safety