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Oil Gushes into Arctic Ocean from BP Pipeline

Posted by Tara Burner 0 comments


by Leonard Doyle
The Independent / UK
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0321-06.htm

Across the frozen North Slope of Alaska, the region’s largest oil
accident on record has been sending hundreds of thousands of litres
of crude pouring into the Arctic Ocean during the past week after a
badly corroded BPO pipeline ruptured.

The publicity caused by the leak in the the 30-year-old pipeline
could seriously damage BP’s image, which has been carefully crafted
to show it as a company concerned about the environment. Unlike other
major oil companies, BP boasts that it is fully signed up to the
dangers of global warming and it makes a conspicuous effort to flaunt
its green credentials, tackling local environmental problems and
erecting wind turbines above its petrol stations.

The first indication of the spill came in early March, when an oily
patch was discovered near the elevated oil transmission pipeline, but
the full scale of the accident is only becoming clear with time.
Environmentalists who vociferously objected to the construction of
the BP pipeline may now see their worst fears realised.

Clean-up crews have removed more than 190,000 litres of crude oil and
melted snow off the frozen tundra but reports indicate that the leak
is the second largest crude oil spill in Alaska – second only to the
1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

The oil gushed from the pipeline at a spot where it dips to ground
level to allow caribou to cross, and has led industry critics and
environmental groups to question whether BP is saving money on
maintaining its network of wells, pumps and pipelines crisscrossing
the tundra – a complaint the company vigorously denies.

As oil is increasingly transported through environmentally sensitive
areas by pipeline, the dangers posed by poorly maintained rotting
pipes has become increasingly clear.

Exploration Alaska, the BP subsidiary that operates the pipeline from
which more than 910,000 litres of oil has leaked, has recently been
fined more than $1.2m (£635,000) for its poor environmental safety
record.

The company has now been told it cannot restart pumping oil until it
the entire pipeline has been inspected and repaired. Employees claim
that they repeatedly warned that money-saving cutbacks in routine
maintenance and inspection had dramatically increased the chances of
accidents or spills.

“For years we’ve been warning the company about cutting back on
maintenance,” Marc Kovac, a union official told the New York Times.
“We know that this could have been prevented.”

In the interview, Marc Kovac, an official of the United Steelworkers
union which represents workers at the BP facility, said he had seen
little change in BP Exploration Alaska’s approach despite the
warnings.

In an e-mail to a company lawyer in June 2004, Mr Kovac forwarded a
collection of his earlier complaints to management. One of these,
dated 28 February 2003, concerned “corrosion monitoring staffing
levels”. It began, “The corrosion monitoring crew will soon be
reduced to six staff down from eight.”

It added: “With the present staff, the crew is currently one month
behind. The backlog is expected to increase with a further reduction
in manpower.”

Daren Beaudo, a company spokesman, said: “Whenever employees raise
concerns about our operations we address them. When we inspected the
line in September 2005, points of manageable corrosion were evident
and all were within standards of operations integrity.

“Something happened to the corrosion rates in that line between
September 2005 and the time of the spill that we don’t yet fully
understand.”

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