The pipeline that delivers 40 percent of Spokane’s gasoline and other petroleum products may be cut off at Missoula next month because the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are upset over repeated spills on their reservation.
An official of the Yellowstone Pipeline Co. estimates that the disruption would add 5 cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline sold in Spokane.
The company’s right of way expires April 21. Pipeline officials have asked for an interim extension until an environmental impact statement is ready for tribal review in September.
But anti-pipeline sentiment is running high, due in large part to spills in 1986, 1987 and 1993. More than 10,000 gallons of aviation fuel leaked in January 1993, destroying medicinal and food plants traditionally used by tribal members.
The 10.75-inch steel pipeline runs 558 miles from Billings to Moses Lake carrying gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation fuel.
David Vanderpool, lead negotiator for the pipeline, said about 21 miles of right of way are involved in discussions with the Tribal Council.
To allay fears about future spills, he said the company has spent $1 million in the last year testing the pipe, and upgrading and replacing valves and some defective sections.
The company is also offering improved monitoring in the future, plus an undisclosed financial incentive for an extension until the environmental impact statement is completed.
“We’ve told them this will be the safest stretch of pipeline in the country,” said Vanderpool, who is a pipeline engineer.
But with an interim agreement far from a sure bet, the pipeline’s owners - Conoco, Exxon Corp. and Union Oil Co. - are scrambling to find alternatives.
It would take 130 trucks a day, each carrying 10,000 gallons, to replace the pipeline. Vanderpool said that is not feasible, and supplies might have to be trucked or brought in by rail from the Tri-Cities and the Puget Sound area.
Most of Spokane’s fuel supply comes through the Tri-Cities. Trucking from Missoula, he said, would add about five cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.
John Bennitt, a spokesman for Conoco, said the company would meet the demands of its retail outlets, but he would not estimate the potential added cost.
Bill Swaney, manager of environmental protection for the tribes, said pipeline officials have asked the Tribal Council for a decision early enough to put contingency plans into effect if the interim agreement is rejected.
“Our intent is to give them a reasonable amount of time to make alternative delivery plans,” Swaney said. We understand the importance of supply.”
The Yellowstone pipeline provides all of the aviation fuel to Fairchild Air Force Base. Bennitt said the Air Force is working on its own contingency plans.
Sgt. Sue Conart said the Defense Fuel Supply Center for the Western Region is responsible for that effort.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bert Caldwell Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this story.