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Owner of West Fargo tank farm where fire started has a history of violating federal regulations

Black smoke fills the sky over West Fargo Sunday morning from a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue. David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO — Magellan Pipeline Co., the owner of the tank farm where a major fire broke out Sunday, Feb. 18, is among pipeline operators with the most enforcement actions by federal regulators, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records.

Between 2006 and the year to date, the Tulsa, Okla., firm received 42 enforcement actions, the fourth highest among operators overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The firm with the most enforcement actions from the agency in this period, Phillips 66 Pipeline, had 56.

Magellan, which is part of a larger company called Magellan Midstream Partners, was fined a total of $1.5 million, though most of the enforcement actions resulted only in warnings. Among the highest total fines was paid by Buckeye Partners; the Houston company was fined $3.5 million.

"We take every incident seriously. Even one incident is not acceptable to us," Thomas L. Byers, a Magellan spokesman, said Monday, Feb. 19. "We certainly meet or exceed all applicable regulations and standards that apply to us. We take safety and safe operations of our assets very seriously."

Fires like the one on Sunday are "rare" for Magellan and the rest of the industry, he said, though he didn't have statistics readily available. No one was hurt in the West Fargo blaze, which produced hazardous smoke and prompted authorities to urge residents to stay indoors for hours until the flames were extinguished.

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Whether the fire will result in any enforcement action remains to be seen. PHMSA offices were closed Monday because of the holiday. Magellan said Sunday that it had notified the agency of the incident.

The last major fire at a Magellan facility happened in June 2008 when lightning struck at a tank farm in Kansas City, Kan., destroying a 145,000-barrel tank containing 28,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline, according to a national news archive.

This is significantly larger than the 43,000-barrel tank in West Fargo, the outside of which caught fire while holding 30,000 barrels of diesel fuel. Magellan said about 1,200 barrels leaked or burned as a result.

The Kansas City fire caused $9.8 million in property damage, PHMSA reported. Magellan was not fined for this incident.

Most PHMSA enforcement actions appear to involve failure to follow regulations or spills.

Magellan's biggest single fine, $604,300 levied in September 2009, was related to a May 2005 pipeline failure that led to 2,900 barrels of unleaded gasoline flowing into the Missouri River in Kansas City. PHMSA said the spill forced a railroad line, a power plant and numerous businesses to shut down.

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Only one of Magellan's enforcement actions involve North Dakota facilities. PHMSA issued the enforcement action in August 2010 for several violations discovered during inspections of facilities in seven states. One of the violations said the firm failed to maintain records of inspections and tests of control valves at pump stations in the facilities. The remaining violations were specific to facilities in states other than North Dakota.

Magellan has one of the largest pipeline networks in the country, ranking seventh in PHMSA's list with 11,000 miles of pipelines from Texas to North Dakota. Phillips 66 is sixth with 11,400 miles.

Still, the largest operator, Enterprise Products Operating, which has 26,400 miles of pipelines, had 36 enforcement actions with $1.4 million in fines. Buckeye Partners, the firm with the highest amount of fines, has 6,400 miles.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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