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article imageNew report: BP’s 'Band-Aid' fix on Alaska’s North Slope pipelines

By Lynn Herrmann     Nov 4, 2010 in Environment
A new internal report generated a month ago on BP’s massive pipeline system located on Alaska’s North Slope shows extensive corrosion on at least 148 pipelines and has given them an “F-rank”.
A copy of the document has been obtained and reported on by ProPublica and shows that as of October 1, 2010, the F-rank BP gave those pipelines means inspections determined that over 80 percent of the pipe wall is corroded; the corrosion is severe enough that rupture could occur, which could then lead to explosions and chemical spills.
Due to the corrosion, many of those F-ranked pipelines - most of which carry flammable or toxic substances - have metal walls worn to within a few thousandths of an inch of rupturing.
Steve Rinehart, spokesman for BP Alaska, said: “We will not operate equipment or facilities that we believe are unsafe.”
ProPublica reports Rinehart said in an e-mail that BP has “an aggressive and comprehensive pipeline inspection and maintenance program” that conducts regular tests for safety, corrosion and reliability.
However, BP oil workers on the North Slope offer a slightly differing view, saying the company’s gas- and fire-warning systems are unreliable, oil and waste holding tanks are ready to collapse, and giant turbines responsible for pumping oil and gas through the system are aging.
Photographs viewed by ProPublica, taken by BP employees in the Prudhoe Bay drilling field this past summer, show rusted and sagging pipelines. Some of these pipelines sag into U-shapes, reaching into pools of water while others have sunk deep into a thawing permafrost.
The rate of decline on the pipelines exceeds BP’s desires to properly fund and repair the lines, ProPublica states. Marc Kovac, a welder and mechanic for BP, said some of the pipes contain hundreds of repair patches on them. “They’re going to run this out as far as they can without leaving one dollar on the table when they leave,” he said.
Two spills from corroded pipes in 2006 threw the company’s maintenance neglect in the national spotlight. The spills occurred in Alaska and at the time, BP shut down all oil transmissions from the North Slope to the United States’ lower 48. The move resulted in approximately 8 percent of the the US’ oil supply being cut off while the company examined the deteriorating pipeline system.
The internal documents obtained by ProPublica show BP has spent millions of dollars for maintenance and equipment upgrades since the ’06 spills. Its maintenance budget for Alaska in 2007 was almost $195 million, four times the amount of its 2004 maintenance budget.
Despite that, workers insist equipment capabilities are still being stretched and maintenance plans set in place years ago remain unfinished. BP employees report several of the 120 turbines being used for compressing gas and pushing it through pipelines have undergone modifications to run at higher temperatures and higher stress levels than their original designs call for.
Workers also state giant tanks holding hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic waste and fluids are sagging due to the heavy loads of corrosive sediment and may collapse.
BP oil worker Kris Dye said: “When you make a complaint about it, rather than fix it right they come with another Band-Aid.” Dye, also a United Steelworkers representative on the Slope added: “It’s very frustrating.”
Insiders with BP who are unauthorized to speak about company matters declined to be identified but said that at the current rate of investment it would take almost 20 years to replace failing detection systems.
Glenn Trimmer, a BP technician working on the Slope, said: “They say, ‘Yep, in the next few years we’re going to upgrade all this fire and gas stuff and it’s going to be more dependable’ and blah, blah, blah. Well, after a few decades I’m not buying it anymore. We can’t even maintain the equipment we have.”
A turbine fire in August 2007 drives home the point these workers are trying to make. In that incident, one of the giant turbines used for compressing gas before being pumped back through company pipelines caught fire. The near-tragedy occurred inside BP’s Gathering Center 1.
An oil hose ruptured, spewing flammable liquid over the motor. A mechanic who was patrolling the facility at the time saw smoke and fled the room as the turbine burst into flames. Automatic gas and fire alarms did not trigger.
The incident became known as the GC-1 incident and was labelled a “high potential” event by BP Alaska’s then-president Doug Suttles. As such, news of the event was distributed globally within the BP corporation as a precaution.
A new book, Disaster on the Horizon, by Bob Cavnar, provides ample information on BP’s history of human rights violations and its disregard of worker safety in its quest for global power and corporate profit. It continues, at great depth, in forewarning readers of disasters poised to explode on the international scene, thanks to the oil and gas industry’s blinding greed.
BP’s continued neglect toward its declining pipeline system is no doubt a small reason the company continues enjoying huge quarterly profits. Even after its poor handling of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, a handling that has led to approximately $30 billion in BP liabilities, the company still managed to report a 2010 third quarter replacement cost profit of $5.5 billion, up 18 percent on its year-ago quarter.
According to the ProPublica report, Rinehart, the BP spokesman, did not respond to questions regarding what portion of its pipe of pipeline system was affected by the corrosion nor was a response offered on whether 148 pipelines with F-ranks were a normal number. He did, however say that BP has more than 1,600 miles of pipelines and the company does more than 100,000 inspections per year.
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