Thursday, May 6, 2010

ProPublica--Congressmen Raised Concerns About BP Safety Before Gulf Oil Spill

I think I need a label titled "incompetence." I have this feeling it would have to be applied to just about every post though...

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - May 4, 2010 5:30 pm EDT
May 5: This post has been corrected.

A 2006 oil leak in Alaska, which temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline, was referenced in a letter dated Jan. 14, 2010, from two congressman to BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.
In the months before BP's Deepwater Horizon rig sank in a ball of fire in the Gulf of Mexico, the company had four close calls on pipelines and facilities it operates in Alaska, according to a letter from two congressmen obtained by ProPublica [2].

In that letter, dated Jan. 14, 2010, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., noted that the company's efforts to cut costs could imperil safety at BP facilities.

Between September 2008 and November 2009, three BP gas and oil pipelines on Alaska's North Slope ruptured or clogged, leading to a risk of explosions, the letter said. A potentially cataclysmic explosion was also avoided at a BP gas compressor plant, where a key piece of equipment designed to prevent the buildup of gas failed to operate, and the backup equipment intended to warn workers was not properly installed.

The letter was addressed to BP's president of Alaskan operations, John Mingé. The congressmen have been investigating BP's safety and operations since 2006, when a 4,800-barrel oil spill temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline.

[Anonymous Tipline: If you work for BP or a contractor on a rig in the Gulf, or anywhere else, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us about your work conditions, your management, and your observations of what is happening. We will not publish your identity. Call 917-512-0254, fax documents to 212-514-5250 or e-mail]

Neither Waxman nor Stupak returned calls for comment, and it wasn't clear from the letter how they obtained the information. The pipeline problems were mentioned in trade and local press, but the compressor plant incident does not appear to have been previously reported.

In 2006, after a string of highly publicized accidents, BP publicly committed to improving its safety record, and by many accounts it made progress. But this letter suggests that concerns about the safety of BP operations persisted in the months leading up to the accident in the Gulf this April, which killed 11 workers and has led to the largest U.S. oil spill in recent history.

In the letter, the congressmen say the "serious safety and production incidents" could affect the operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a "vital energy security asset" that supplies one-fourth of the nation's daily oil needs.

BP announced strong profits on April 27. According to a banking analyst report, the company benefited from having cut some 5,000 jobs and saving $4 billion in operating expenses.

A BP spokesman in Alaska did not respond by the time of publication after requesting and receiving detailed questions from ProPublica. More>>>