By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
March 20, 2006
Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., acknowledged the company received a letter from the Office of Pipeline Safety, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The letter orders BP to take a series of actions, such as running an electronic device called a pig through the 3-mile pipeline to test for corrosion or other problems.
Beaudo said late Thursday that he was not at liberty to provide a copy of the letter.
"We're still reviewing it," he said.
The federal intervention is somewhat unexpected because BP has long maintained that the pipeline that leaked is not subject to federal regulation.
The Office of Pipeline Safety, however, has been studying whether to expand its oversight to cover more of the thousands of miles of steel pipes lacing Prudhoe and other North Slope oil fields.
The leaky pipeline, 34 inches in diameter, carries crude oil from a Prudhoe processing plant called Gathering Center 2 to the starting point of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.
A worker for BP, which operates the nation's largest oil field, discovered a leak March 2 after smelling oil as he drove an access road running alongside the pipeline.
Cleanup workers subsequently determined that the spill amounts to the largest crude oil spill by far on the North Slope. The spilled oil covers close to two acres, including the edge of a frozen lake.
Pollution officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation say they're confident that cleanup workers will be able to recover most of the oil without much damage to the tundra.
But the spill has caused major disruption for BP, shutting down a pipeline that carries about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, or 12 percent of total North Slope production. Because of the size of the spill, BP could be fined millions of dollars.
BP managers have said the leaky pipeline could remain out of service for weeks. Meantime, they hope to restore some of the idled production by routing oil through a nearby but smaller pipeline.
The Office of Pipeline Safety regulates 2.3 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, according to the agency's Web site.
But many of the pipelines on the North Slope - predominantly smaller pipes known as gathering or flow lines - do not come under federal regulation.
BP believes the leaky Prudhoe pipeline is a gathering line not subject to such regulation, spokesman Beaudo said.
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