I make this post periodically to educate electrical engineers,
electricians, and electrical inspectors or if not for their education,
then for their amusement and enlightenment.
Why doesn't the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration ever go after the Trans Alaska Alyeska Pipeline? I will
tell you why. Because the Alyeska Pipeline is regulated by the Joint
Pipeline Office (JPO) that is made up of 1/2 federal and 1/2 state
regulators. The JPO is based in Anchorage under the supervision of two
political appointees, one federal and one state. The JPO is curtailed
many ways including being funded by Alyeska. Yes it is funded by the
mouth it regulates.
Now why do I bring this up? Because the Valdez Marine Terminal (VMT)
has the most outstanding engineering screw up ever installed in an
electrical system in Alaska. There are 14 miles of cable tray at VMT
where miles of Rockbestos cables for 480 volt, 5 KV, and 15 KV are
installed. None of these cables have equipment grounding conductors in
them, around them, or attached to them! Equipment grounding is
accomplished through the metal cable trays and metal raceways. This
anomaly has been identified by state and private inspectors but
Alyeska and BP will not fix it. Also, the cable trays were not listed
at the time they were installed in 1975.
Alyeska and BP will defend their screw up by saying they have a high
impedance grounding system. That system limits fault current when you
have one ground fault, but when that ground fault occurs in the winter
like now with 20 some feet of snow on the terminal it is not fixed,
sometimes for months. When the second ground fault occurs on a
different phase from the same transformer we then have a phase to
phase fault and the substitute metal cable tray/raceway grounding
system does not have low enough impedance to allow enough fault
current to trip a breaker.
Alyeska and BP refuse to fix this problem. One of these days we are
going to see the VMT go up in flames and it only takes several hours
with a major crude fire for the fumes to suffocate everyone in the
City of Valdez.
The JPO will not enforce safety for this anomaly and the U.S. Pipeline
and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration stays out of it.
In 2000 a second ground fault did occur in the tank Farm area in a
Class I Div I area on a system that had an existing ground fault on a
different phase from the same transformer. The arcing and sparking did
not trip the breaker but was found by observers on the ground. I was
there and I saw it! So don't tell me this didn=92t happen.
The VMT is a time bomb waiting to explode!
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allows
this dangerous situation to exist because the JPO has jurisdiction.
I maintain that the federally independent agency, U.S. Pipeline and
Hazardous Materials Safety Administration should take over managing
the safety of the VMT and the Alyeska Tran Alaska pipeline.
Let me explain some reasons. The VMT equipment grounding system has no
redundancy. This is in a facility that is a major world class crude
oil terminal. Most electrical systems have two additional equipment
grounding systems where the metal cable tray and metal raceways act as
the third system in order of importance. They include a copper
equipment grounding conductor inside a metal jacketed cable and the
metal jacket itself. Redundancy in grounding is standard engineering
practice and is commonly installed in most industrial electrical
systems. This redundancy is installed in electrical systems at trans
Alaska Pipeline Pump Stations, at the North Slope Oil production
facilities, and at the Red Dog Zinc mine near Kotzebue and the Fort
Knox Gold mine near Fairbanks that have minimal Class I Division I and
2 areas. The VMT does not have these systems that act as the primary
and secondary equipment grounding systems where this redundancy is
especially important since there are so many hazardous Class I
Division 1 and 2 areas since crude oil is classified as a flammable
liquid with a flashpoint far below 100 degrees F.
You may ask why I suggest that the federal independent agency take
over safety inspections of the VMT and pipeline.
It is because the private contractor inspector that would not accept
Alyeska's and BP's not fixing the grounding system at VMT was paid
$40,000 to quit his job and never work for an oil company contractor
in Alaska again. The state of Alaska inspector that would not accept
the deficient grounding system at VMT had his position cut by the
legislature after refusing to accept the grounding anomaly. When the
Fairbanks position was restored in 2006, some 10 years later, the
authority to inspect the VMT and Alyeska pipeline pump stations was
removed from the Fairbanks electrical inspector's position and shifted
quiet conveniently to the JPO where the inspector could be hamstrung.
The state inspector whose job was cut sued the state of Alaska and won
the suit after three years. His attorney, BG, was to proceed with a
law suit against Alyeska (as promised by the attorney) but was
abruptly hired by Alyeska to stop whistle blower complaints before the
suit was filed.
10 years ago