By RICHARD MAUER
August 20, 2006
Expressing his displeasure through words and an occasional thump on the lectern, Stevens told reporters at a news conference Thursday in Anchorage that BP's assurances to high-level officials have proven hollow in light of two recent spills and the company's emergency shutdown of a huge portion of Prudhoe Bay.
"I am disturbed not only by the fact that over the years, when I've taken members of Congress up there - particularly senators and people from the administration - we've been briefed that this is the safest area in the world, and how it's been maintained, and how they've got special procedures to check for corrosion and erosion and any sludge inside the pipeline.
"As a matter of fact, it just wasn't done. And somehow or other, the regime for management failed to recognize it hadn't been done."
Stevens said he was even more disturbed when he learned at a recent briefing by company officials and government regulators that BP unknowingly allowed corrosion to eat away 81 percent of the steel shell in portions of one of its major transit pipelines.
"We should've known every time there was 1 percent gone," Stevens said. BP's normal policy is to replace pipe when corrosion has reduced its walls by 60 percent, he said.
BP's director of media relations in Alaska, Daren Beaudo, said he didn't hear Stevens' remarks, but said that like Stevens, BP was surprised by the extent of the corrosion. "We will also learn (what happened) from a root cause analysis and apply our learnings here in Alaska and around the world."
BP is working to replace 16 miles of pipe, he said.
The lines in question are largely unregulated because they operate at low pressure, carrying supposedly refinery-ready petroleum from processing plants that remove water and sludge. The pipelines deliver oil to the first pump station on the trans-Alaska pipeline, which operates under pressure and is highly regulated.
On March 2, one of the transit lines was responsible for the largest North Slope oil spill ever, dumping an estimated 201,000 gallons of hot petroleum onto frozen tundra and an iced-over lakeshore. On Aug. 6, BP began shutting down Prudhoe when it discovered another leak, though much smaller, in a transit line in another section of the giant oil field.
The decision to shut down the entire field was scrapped amid cries by some officials that the measure was extreme. But Stevens said he agreed with the shutdown.
"I gotta tell you, I think it was necessary," Steven said. "Two spills, and something's causing it. Shut it down till we can examine it and find out we can operate it without great risk." Since then, the company has decided that the western half of the field, where the March leak occurred, can operate "without great risk," Stevens said.
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com
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