“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”
Bloomberg news is reporting early today that a BP oil pipeline run by its subsidiary company, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., yesterday leaked “several thousand barrels” of crude oil during a test of a “fire command system” near Delta Junction, Alaska. It is further reported in a company press statement that at approximately 10:20 a.m. local time yesterday during the fire system test “a power failure led a valve to fail causing oil to drain into a tank that overflowed into a secondary containment area.”
According to a spokesperson for the company, as reported in this morning’s Vancouver Sun, “there were no injuries, but the approximately 40 people at the work site were evacuated.”
The BP subsidiary estimates the amount of oil spilled to be “up to several thousand barrels” and its press statement notes (not with great reassurance, mind you) that the pipeline’s “containment area” is capable of holding up to just under 105,000 barrels. As a result of the shutdown, Bloomberg reports that “the Trans-Alaska system cut to 16 percent because of the shutdown.”
BP’s subsidiary operates a 1,300-kilometre segment of the Trans Alaska pipeline which carries crude oil from the North Slope region out of oilfields at Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska, namesake of the famed Exxon super tanker which ran aground in 1989 when its captain thought it would be a hoot to steer the behemoth while under the influence of alcohol.
Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is owned by a consortium made up of BP Pipelines (Alaska) which owns just under 47 per cent of the operation, ConocoPhillips (28.3 per cent), ExxonMobil (20.3 per cent) and two other local companies (4.4 per cent).
When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, between the Brooks Range mountains of northern Alaska and the Beaufort Sea, the big oil companies, including BP, decided that the best method for delivery of the North Slope crude was to pipe it overland to a port in the southern part of the state and ship it from there south to American markets by tanker.
As already noted in a very recent LOON post, BP’s Alaskan pipeline operation has already sprung serious leaks and caused major environmental messes on several occasions in the past decade alone.
Media inquiries to BP’s head office in Anchorage have apparently been rerouted (call forwarded?) to the Alyeska offices. But as of noon eastern time on May 26th, the company’s website, which includes a “press release” page, contained no mention of the incident.
BP also warned (again) in April 2010 about Endicott pipeline corrosion
On Friday of last week, it was also reported by the Associated Press that a federal pipeline regulator sent a warning notice to BP Alaska in April 2010 arising from “the company’s handling of certain corrosion issues affecting its Endicott Pipeline.” According to that report, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) made an inspection of BP’s Endicott pipeline segment in Prudhoe Bay in 2009 during which inspectors uncovered a failure by BP to protect its pipeline against corrosion.
That report also said that “signs of atmospheric corrosion were found during the inspection and that BP did not provide records showing they’d monitored for those problems.” However, BP’s response to the PHMSA warning was to say that “the company believes its current programs meet all BP and regulatory requirements but is taking additional steps to address the concerns.”
What makes all of this an even more glaring example of déjà vu with respect to BP’s slipshod environmental safety record in Alaska is that PHMSA has been on the company’s case about corrosion in BP’s Endicott pipeline for the past thirteen years.
A visit to the PHMSA website reveals a letter that was sent twelve years ago in February 1998 to BP’s then president of Alaska operations, Les Owen, in which he was pointed towards chapter and verse of the federal law governing pipeline safety and which warned that:
On November 20, 1997, a representative of the Western Region, Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), pursuant to Chapter 601 of 49 United States Code, conducted an inspection of your Endicott Pipeline system. The inspection also included examination of operating and maintenance procedures and records related to this pipeline. The facilities and records reviewed during this inspection revealed areas on your Endicott Pipeline system that are cause for concern.
1. §195.416(I) requires each operator to clean, coat with a material suitable for the prevention of atmospheric corrosion and maintain this protection for, each component in its pipeline system that is exposed to the atmosphere.
BP has determined they have areas of external corrosion on the pipeline. BP believes the cause of this corrosion is from water seeping through the insulation at the ‘weldpack’ seams and becoming trapped against the pipe. BP has run an internal inspection tool through the pipeline and has verbally indicated they plan to inspect, monitor and/or repair all locations where the internal inspection tool has indicated significant corrosion. However, at the time of the inspection, BP was unable to specify their plans for addressing each of the anomalies indicated by the internal inspection tool….
Interesting LOON Factoid® #3334:
Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd, worked as a production supervisor at BP’s Prudhoe Bay operation for 17 years.