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“The Fireball Was Above The Trees”: Could The 1999 Bellingham Pipeline Explosion Happen Again?

Wikimedia Commons
Smoke billows from the Bellingham pipeline leak and explosion in 1999.

This story originally aired on September 30, 2017.


On June 10, 1999, Bellingham residents began reporting the strong smell of gasoline. Then, within minutes, 911 operators were flooded with reports of a massive explosion. 
A fuel pipeline had burst, dumping nearly 300,000 gallons of gasoline into nearby creeks. 

And then it ignited. 

Black smoke rose 30,000 feet in the air and flames shot out for over a mile. It’s considered a miracle there were only three deaths. 

Almost 20 years later, the incident is a fading memory. But the technological failures that led to the disaster still have not been solved, according to cyber security expert Joe Weiss. He studies these types of things for a living, and is gravely concerned that our trust in this technology is putting us in harm’s way. More troubling, our reliance extends far beyond pipelines. 

As Weiss says, “This is transportation, energy, power, manufacturing defense. Our entire infrastructure is built on this automation.”

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.