BP admits lag in safety inspections

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE - At least 200 fire detection and suppression systems in the Prudhoe Bay oil field have not been inspected on schedule, and BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. plans to hire 12 additional inspectors to bring its fire systems into compliance.

A BP spokesman also said that hundreds of valves designed to release pressure in pipelines and tanks at the North Slope field have not been inspected on schedule. The company plans to hire more workers to correct the problem.

Few of the fire system inspections or pressure valve tests are done by government officials. Instead, they rely extensively on self-reporting by BP and other oil companies.

"The work was not appropriately managed by BP," company spokesman Ronnie Chappell told the Anchorage Daily News on Thursday, referring to hundreds of uninspected fire detection and suppression systems.

In recent months, some BP workers have claimed numerous problems with safety and operations at the aging oil field.

Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, is a sprawling web of oil production pads, crude transportation lines and oil gathering and processing centers. Valves to release pressure and fire systems to put out smoke and flames are key components of the safety system.

Chappell said that since January five of its 12 fire inspection workers moved to other positions in the oil field and were not replaced. Fewer workers, combined with a new inspection tracking that uncovered uncertified systems, led to the large backlog, Chappell said.

Fire system inspections in some cases are a year or more behind schedule, Chappell said. BP has sent a letter to the state outlining a plan to complete inspections by Jan. 31, said Kelly Nicolello, assistant state fire marshal.

"This is a reliability issue. If you work in one of these facilities, you expect them to work. You don't want to find out they don't work when you need them," Nicolello said.

Pressure valve inspections are also months behind.

On Jan. 1, 161 pressure valves were due for inspection. Today, roughly 600 of the 2,700 pressure valves are behind on inspections. Contributing to the large number of uninspected valves, inspectors opted to work facility by facility rather than to target valves by their inspection dates, Chappell said.

Both fire system and pressure valve inspections are done by contractors.

"What was missing was a strong accountability back to BP," Chappell said. "Management of this program was not what it could have been."

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