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Frank King of Bellingham, Wash., whose son Wade was killed in a 1999 pipeline explosion, told about 100 Austin residents that the federal Office of Pipeline Safety is not "watching closely enough. Nobody's watching."

Most of those at Sunday's meeting oppose the proposed reopening of the Longhorn pipeline -- a 50-year-old conduit that would carry gasoline from Houston to El Paso.

Roughly 500,000 gallons of gasoline spilled from a ruptured pipeline into fields and a creek nine miles from Greenville late Thursday night and early Friday morning.

No injuries or fire occurred. But much of the gasoline was flushed down the creek by Friday's torrential rains, and the spill is threatening to enter Lake Tawakoni, a drinking water supply source for Dallas, Greenville and other cities and towns in the region, state and federal environmental officials said Sunday.

"Our principal concern now is to protect the lake and drinking water and to assist in the cleanup," said Ruben Ochoa, spokesman for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

The spill poses a great threat to drinking water because it is reformulated gasoline -- a less- polluting, cleaner-burning fuel that is about 10 percent Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, an additive that the federal government considers a probable cancer-causing agent.

"We thought we had it contained, but it has at times broken through dams and booms set up to contain it. It is now about four to six miles from the lake," said Greg Fife, on-scene coordinator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The state and water utilities are sampling the water but had not found any of the additive in the lake as of Sunday evening, Fife said. However, daily sampling will continue, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun an investigation into the break -- an 8-inch wide, 4-foot long gash -- in the 28-inch diameter underground pipe owned by Tulsa- based Explorer Pipeline Co., Fife said.

Explorer runs a six-state pipeline from Lake Charles, La., to Hammond, Ind., and has a "good safety record," Craig said. The gasoline was headed for St. Louis before the spill, he said.

Friday's storms were so intense and the lightening so frequent that clean-up crews had "to be backed out of the area" in case there was an explosion, Fife said.

"We lost dams in the heavy rains and have now put up some permanent low water dams," said Curtis Craig, Explorer counsel. "We're doing everything we can."

When gasoline leaked from a broken pipeline at 5 p.m. on June 10 in Bellingham, three people were fatally injured in the subsequent explosion.

Frank King, 52, told residents gathered at a south Austin middle school Sunday, "Gasoline was flowing like a river into the creek."

King, who owns two car dealerships in Washington, said his son's friend flicked a cigarette lighter and a huge fireball engulfed the boys, instantly spreading along the creek.

King said he found his son Wade -- hair, shirt and most of his skin burned off -- in the back yard. Wade King was conscious and talking, and the father thought his son might survive. But that night, the youngster died in a Seattle hospital, he said.

"The last thing I told him was, `There's a baseball game in heaven. They're waiting for you,' " King said. "He was stolen from us at the height of his innocence."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D- Austin, who asked King to come to Texas, said the proposed Longhorn pipeline would pass close to a dozen schools and thousands of families. It could contaminate the Edwards Aquifer, a vital drinking-water source, Doggett said.

"I don't want any pipeline funerals in south Austin," Doggett said. "Clearly, pipeline safety in North Texas, Washington and Austin is an issue."

The EPA should do a full environmental impact statement, analyzing the risk presented by a gasoline pipeline, rather than the incomplete environmental assessment that failed to look at possible health effects, Doggett said.

"The facts need to be laid out to the public," he said.

King, for his part, said he is not interested in a criminal investigation of his son's death.

"The pipeline industry must be made to be responsible for its accidents," he said. "The people of Washington and the families of the little boys deserve to know what happened."

Neil Strassman, (817) 390-7657 Send comments to strass@star-telegram.com

-- mike in houston (mmorris67@hotmail.com), March 13, 2000


The people at Olympic 'stonewalled' the public, authorities and government about their pipeline. They are still doing it. They only turn over information as it is demanded by legal process. Their whining in the local paper reveals that they just want to get the pipe up and running again without any further ado, almost like the deaths and explosion were nothing, money life just goes on for them.

I am extremely concerned about the safety of all pipelines, I happen to have the Olympic pipeline running through the border to my property about 3 acres away, not a pleasant thought to sleep with at night.

If other pipeline companies are anywhere near like Olympic, we have our hands full trying to get oversight and proper regular testing of all underground pipeline traffic. They should not be buried and then practically forgotten until something terrible happens. [soapbox off]

-- Sammie (sammiex0@yahoo.com), March 13, 2000.

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