BP's Cost-Cutting Measures Could Imperil Safety, Congressmen Said 3 Months Ago


Photo via Grey Goose Adventures

BP's safety record may be even worse than originally thought. It's been well-reported that the company complained openly and lobbied vigorously to oppose safety regulations, and opted out of the $500,000 safety valve that could have prevented the rupture. But elsewhere, BP's safety practices had fallen under scrutiny by a pair of US congressmen -- ever since the series of problems with the company's pipelines in Alaska, Congressmen Bart Stupak and Henry Waxman have been poking around. In a letter dated just three months ago, they found that BP's safety procedures were seriously, seriously lacking . . .The Guardian reports that a letter from the congressmen "was addressed to BP's president of Alaskan operations, John Mingé" just last January. "The congressmen have been investigating BP's safety and operations since 2006, when a 4,800-gallon oil spill temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline."

It appears that even though the company had attempted to publicly repair its image on safety, there were still major holes in its operations.

this letter suggests concerns about the safety of BP operations persisted in the months leading up to the accident in the Gulf this April, which killed 11 workers and has lead to the largest U.S. oil spill in recent history.

In the letter the congressmen say the "serious safety and production incidents" could affect the operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a "vital energy security asset" that supplies one fourth of the nation's daily oil needs.

Of course, the congressmen were investigating, and referring to a completely different operation than the offshore operations in the Gulf. But the report may yield clues as to how deeply the lack of concern for safety runs in BP -- and how pervasive the bucking of such safety concerns is across the commercial industry.

For instance, the congressmen reported that the operations in Alaska are not outfitted with proper safety measures, either:

According to the letter, in the most dangerous of the incidents last year in Alaska, safety backstops also failed. On Oct. 10, 2009, a staging valve stuck closed at a large central compressor station in Prudhoe Bay where gas is captured for re-injection back underground. According to the congressional letter, the blockage caused gas to back up on another series of valves. A backup flare meant to burn off that collection of gas was not lit at the time, and cameras, installed so BP staff could monitor the flare's functions in real time, were not pointed in the right direction. There was no explosion; the gas vented out before anything could ignite it.
Experts say that if there were to be an explosion, it would be among the worst ever seen in the industry.

The point is, there seems to be a real disregard for safety that's endemic to the entire company's operations -- and that this opportunity needs to be taken to clamp down on those violating safety regulations.

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Tags: Congress | Conservation | Oil | United States

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