Pipelines Create Unique Vulnerabilities

Routed through metro areas and laden with hazardous substances, pipelines deserve extra scrutiny

Federal regulators say Florida has had two dozen significant pipeline incidents since 1997. The list includes the 2005 fuel line rupture near Plant City, but not the May 2003 ammonia pipeline rupture in southeast Hillsborough.

The latter leak closed schools, forced evacuations and injured Erick Hansen, who was convicted in federal court and sentenced to 30 years in prison for tampering with the line.

After the incident, stronger chains and locks were placed on the pipeline's valve boxes and the locations of the boxes were more precisely mapped to give engineers easier access. Students and administrators at nearby schools learned how to take shelter if a leak occurred.

Robert Rose, president of Tampa Pipeline Corp., said his company would explore what else can be done to protect its pipelines.

"Everything was done we could do; we just weren't geared up for some kid drilling holes in the pipeline," he said. "What we have to do now is go through and review all the procedures we have in place and see if we can do anything to make it better."

Monday's vandalism also could cast a cloud over a proposal by Houston-based Kinder Morgan to build a second jet fuel pipeline to Tampa International Airport. Tampa Pipeline has persuaded a few neighborhood groups to oppose the second pipeline and is lobbying the city council to deny a franchise agreement to Kinder Morgan.

"When anybody has a problem like this it hurts everybody across the board," Rose said, "and people just don't want more pipelines."

Copyright © 2007, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com