Congress probes safety issues at Prudhoe Bay

Letter: Natural gas processing center is beyond safe capacity

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007

WASHINGTON - Congress is investigating allegations that a natural gas processing center operated by BP PLC at the Prudhoe Bay field is holding nearly double its safe capacity, putting workers' safety at risk.

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The facility was designed to contain no more than 5 billion cubic feet of compressed gas, but inventories have reached 9.2 billion cubic feet, "potentially putting 1,000 lives at risk in the event of a major catastrophe," according to a letter sent last week to BP and the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

The letter included concerns about the proximity of nonessential workers to the "potential blast zone" and an antiquated fire fighting system.

Miller is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which in March held a hearing on the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City plant that killed 15 people and injured 170. His letter asked for status reports on the issues "as soon as possible" from BP and the state.

BP is investigating the worker safety concerns and will take action where appropriate, company spokesman Ronnie Chappell said Monday. He would not discuss specifics in Miller's letter and said there was no timeline for replying to the congressman.

A representative from Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Clark Bishop's office did not immediately return a call for comment Monday morning.

A House committee spokesman said only that BP has acknowledged receiving the letter, which was faxed on Friday.

More than 200,000 gallons of oil leaked at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field in March 2006 due to corrosion. Five months later, after another leak, BP partially shut down the nation's largest oil field, which it operates on behalf of itself, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

BP has pledged to replace 16 miles of corroded pipeline by the end of next year at a cost of about $250 million

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