Congress looks into BP foul-ups on pipeline

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Congressional leaders are looking for answers to e-mails and other documents that suggest concerns about BP's costs might have led to pipeline corrosion and leaks last year at the Prudhoe Bay oil field.

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Two congressmen said in a letter to BP President Bob Malone that the documents show that BP considered reducing the use of corrosion-inhibiting chemicals in pipelines to save money.

The letter also says BP might have skimped on corrosion monitoring techniques, such as running pigs through pipes to look for irregularities and thin spots.

On Thursday, hearings will be held in Washington, D.C., on last August's partial shutdown of Prudhoe Bay, the nation's top-producing oil field, due to pipeline leaks.

The shutdown followed a major spill from a corroded pipe months earlier. The 201,000-gallon release was the largest oil spill ever on the North Slope.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the chair of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., based the letter on documents they say BP recently turned over to the subcommittee.

"We have no direct comment as to the content of the letter, except to say we're cooperating with the subcommittee and will provide information," BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said.

The letter asks Malone to answer questions such as, "At any time from 2000 to 2005, did BP managers order corrosion inhibitor injection to be turned off, specifically to save money or stay within budget constraints?"

The congressmen ask Malone to be ready to discuss the impact of budget cutting on BP's corrosion control unit and the morale of workers.

"The documents provided to the subcommittee confirm that people on the front lines of corrosion management believed that they were under extreme pressure, and they were attempting to do their best with what they had," the letter says.

BP executives have apologized for the leaks and said they were surprised by the corrosion outbreak in oil pipes not normally susceptible to such damage. The executives also have admitted to inadequately managing corrosion in the major Prudhoe pipes, known as transit lines, which are being replaced.

BP runs Prudhoe Bay on behalf of itself and other owners including Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Chevron and Forest Oil.

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