DEC says BP still not complying with its oil-leak detection rule

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE - BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is among several pipeline operators that have been slow to comply with a 10-year rule to install oil-leak detection systems on some of the state's large oil trunk lines, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

BP could face state fines for taking too long to install a system to detect leaks on Prudhoe Bay's pipelines, which carry more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

Operators were given until 1997 to install sensitive leak detection systems as part of a massive revision to Alaska's oil spill prevention program following the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.

The pipes - on the North Slope, Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet - carry a total of more than 1 million barrels of oil a day from production centers to shipping posts and refineries.

Detection systems must catch leaks of at least 1 percent of the oil flowing through about 15 pipelines, the regulation states. The state set a low threshold so operators would spot potential leaks before they turned into huge spills, said Elaine Cederstrom, a DEC environmental engineering assistant.

"This might have not been as big of an issue 20 years ago, but as the pipes get older there are more concerns," she told the Anchorage Daily News.

In 1997, the state modified the regulation to include some secondary lines. Also, DEC gave the companies more time to complete the work.

Today two lines, including the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline, have been verified to be in compliance, according to the DEC. The other pipelines could be up to par, but the agency either hasn't checked or the companies haven't reported their test results.

However, the detection system that covers Prudhoe's lines does not meet the 1 percent standard. DEC is considering fining BP, which runs North America's largest oil field.

The system for the small Badami field also failed.

The leak systems on pipelines for Endicott and Milne Point - two second-tier North Slope fields - have not been tested. Test results on pipelines from Alpine and Northstar - two new fields - are under review.

The detection system at Kuparuk, the country's second largest oil field, has not been tested, DEC said. Phillips spokeswoman Dawn Patience said the system passed in 1996. Another test is scheduled for this spring, she said.

The pipeline from the Lisburne field passed, as did the leak detection system on the trans-Alaska pipeline.

In the Cook Inlet area, detection systems are being installed on four of five major pipelines although DEC said it doesn't know the status of them. The system on the West MacArthur River pipeline hasn't been tested.

The agency has a pending "enforcement action" against BP. Other companies could face similar penalties if they don't get the work done, said Jeff Mach, DEC's oil and gas coordinator.

The cost of adding leak detection systems is unknown, though it is likely to be in the millions, according to DEC.

BP expects to bring Prudhoe into compliance by the end of this year, according to the company and DEC.

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