Democratic News

Senators Seek Answers on BP Pipeline Situation in Alaska
Seeming Inaction on Maintenance Deemed ‘Inexcusable’  
 
 
U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today wrote to Federal regulators requesting information on oversight of the failing petroleum pipelines serving Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
 
The Senators are asking Thomas J. Barrett, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation, to provide information related to shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field because of extensive corrosion in major segments of the pipeline held by British Petroleum (BP) Exploration Alaska Inc.
 
“We are concerned by reports of significant pipeline corrosion in the Eastern Operating Area of Prudhoe Bay, as well as previously known corrosion in the Western Operating Area, as discovered in the March 2006 spill of approximately 5,000 barrels of oil,” the Senators wrote Barrett.  “Additionally, early reports of the discovery of 16 anomalies at 12 locations in a three-mile area of the Eastern Area are distressing, and, if true, inexcusable.”
 
Domenici and Bingaman recommended a full investigation into the initial reports that BP failed to use internal inspection devices, so-called smart pigs, in the Eastern Area in a timely manner.
 
“It seems to us that this failure should not have happened.  Therefore, we ask what should have been done to prevent this from happening and what should be done to prevent it from happening in the future,” the Senators wrote.
 
“We urge your continued attention to this issue and request that you keep us fully apprised of the Prudhoe Bay situation.  We will continue to monitor this situation, and, if necessary, we will take appropriate action,” they concluded.
 
Here’s the full letter:
 
August 10, 2006
 
Vice Admiral Thomas J. Barrett, USCG (Ret.)
Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W.
Washington D.C. 20590
 
Dear Administrator Barrett:
 
            We are writing to express our concern regarding the shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska by BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. (“BP”).  As you know, Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in the United States with daily production totaling approximately 400,000 barrels of oil per day.  An affordable and reliable energy supply is critical to our nation’s well-being and, as such, we view this domestic oil production from Prudhoe Bay as an integral part of our nation’s energy security. 
 
For the above-mentioned reasons, we are deeply troubled by initial reports from Prudhoe Bay that indicate that BP will likely have to replace 16 miles of its 22 miles of pipe in this oil field.  Further, we are concerned by the reports of significant pipeline corrosion in the Eastern Operating Area of Prudhoe Bay as well as previously known corrosion in the Western Operating Area, as discovered in the March 2006 spill of approximately 5,000 barrels of oil. 
 
Additionally, early reports of the discovery of 16 anomalies at 12 locations in a three-mile area of the Eastern Area are distressing and, if true, are inexcusable.  According to testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, the March 2nd spill came from a BP crude oil transmission line which was exempt from PHMSA regulations because it was a “low-stress” pipeline ( 49 USC 60102(k)) that met location requirements of PHMSA regulations.  We request information on the extent of exempt pipelines in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.   
 
 Finally, we think it is important to investigate fully the reports of the failure of BP to use internal inspection devices (“smart pigs”) in the Eastern Area of Prudhoe Bay in a timely manner.  It seems to us that this failure should not have happened.  Therefore, we ask what should have been done to prevent this from happening and what should be done to prevent it from happening in the future.
 
We understand that your office has issued several compliance orders to BP since the incident in March 2006.  Further, we understand that there are ongoing investigations with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the March 2006 oil spill at Prudhoe Bay.  We urge your continued attention to this important issue and request that you keep us fully apprised of the Prudhoe Bay situation.  We will continue to monitor this situation, and, if necessary, we will take appropriate action. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Pete V. Domenici         Jeff Bingaman
                                                                                   
cc: Senator Ted Stevens
      Senator Daniel K. Inouye
      Senator Lisa Murkowski
 
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