INDIANAPOLIS - A pipeline that dumped 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel into a northwest Indianapolis neighborhood has been cited previously by the United States Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.
The leak happened May 9 at 56th Street and Guion Road, shutting down roads for several days as crews cleaned up the area, including a wetland.
PHMSA is still investigating what caused the leak, which happened on the Marathon’s RIO pipeline, which runs from Robinson, Ill. to Lima, Ohio.
Marathon operates 12 pipeline systems in Indiana, according to company spokesperson Brandon Daniels.
When the leak happened in May 2013, the Call 6 Investigators submitted a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act asking for previous inspection records on that same pipeline.
Records provided by PHMSA show in September 2007, Marathon Pipe Line LLC paid an $87,500 civil penalty for inspection violations, including a violation for the “RIO” pipeline.
According to records, inspectors found Marathon failed to inspect the surface conditions along the pipeline system, in “certain specified areas in Carmel, Ind.”
"Respondent’s use of aerial patrolling was ineffective due to vegetation overgrowth," read a 2008 order from USDOT PHMSA. "Each operator shall, at intervals not exceeding 3 weeks, but at least 26 times each calendar year, inspect the surface conditions on or adjacent to each pipeline right of way. Methods of inspection include walking, driving, flying or other appropriate means of traversing the right of way."
Steve Wereley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, said it’s crucial for pipeline operators to inspect their own pipelines regularly.
"It's important that right of way remain clear so that any oil spills coming from the pipeline are quickly observed," said Wereley. "The oil company, their responsibility is to maintain the right of way so that air inspectors or drive-by inspectors can see if oil is spilling, or when a problem has happened."
Records show federal inspectors also issued warnings to Marathon on the RIO pipeline including "alleged failure to maintain a valve necessary for the safe operation of a pipeline" and "alleged failure to electrically test each electrical isolation."
The same report also warned Marathon Pipe Line LLC about failing to fully inspect portions of its pipelines for evidence of corrosion.
Wereley explained corrosion can lead to leakage.
"So when oil or gas gets into the ecosystem, all kinds of problems can happen ranging from simple things like making driving conditions hazardous if the oil runs into the road, to long-term ecological damage, even chromosomal damage to animals and people in the area," Wereley said.
The last time the RIO pipeline received an inspection from PHMSA was 2009, Daniels said.
PHMSA’s 2009 inspection did not uncover any significant concerns on the pipeline, records show.
Daniels told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney the pipeline’s issues from five years ago had nothing do with the leak at 56th and Guion Road.
The cause of the leak is still under investigation, and the pipeline has been fixed and is now back up and running.
"Additionally, all released product has been recovered, and the impacted area has been remediated and restored," Daniels said in an email to RTV6. "MPL strives daily to ensure the safety and security of all the residents in the communities in which we have the privilege of operating. Furthermore our commitment to environmental responsibility remains the focus of all of our employees."
Daniels said Marathon Pipe Line strives to ensure the safety and security of residents.
"Furthermore our commitment to environmental responsibility remains the focus of all of our employees. To that end, we have a rigorous maintenance, inspection and monitoring program for all of the pipelines in our network," Daniels said in a statement to RTV6. "These programs help us to preserve the integrity of each of our pipeline systems. One such example is MPL’s public awareness campaign that advocates for safe-digging practices and using the "811 Call Before You Dig" telephone number. This helps to prevent damage to underground pipelines during third-party digging projects."