BP audit: Corrosion expert job vacant for months before spill

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - By the time a massive oil-pipeline spill was discovered in March on the North Slope, the job of BP's senior corrosion engineer had been left unfilled for more than a year, according to an internal company audit.

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This vacancy, and others, hindered BP's ability to maintain a "strategic view" of its corrosion prevention activities, the audit found. A BP spokesman said Friday that a replacement for the senior corrosion engineer has yet to be found.

BP Exploration Alaska Inc. also left vacant the top job in its pipeline-corrosion oversight division in Alaska for more than six months in 2005, according to the audit. That division, formally known as the Corrosion, Inspection and Chemicals Group, was headed until the end of 2004 by Richard C. Woollam, who on Thursday refused to testify under oath before a House subcommittee.

Among the key recommendations of the audit team, led by BP's director of engineering John Baxter, was "an urgent need" to "develop and implement a succession programme for key positions in the CIC organization."

And given the increased scrutiny on BP's operations in Alaska following the March spill, the company also needs to examine "the size and professional qualification" of its pipeline-corrosion monitoring division.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said Friday that the company has been slow in filling the vacancies because staff has been consumed with responding to the March spill, extensive pipeline corrosion discovered in August and the subsequent federal investigations into what went wrong.

Dean said the company is "actively recruiting" and that it plans to "radically" increase the size of its corrosion prevention staff in Alaska. He said that since the June report, the role of the senior corrosion manager and other vacant jobs are being filled on an interim basis.

BP announced Thursday that the company hired three outside corrosion experts to independently review the Alaska pipeline problems and to make recommendations for improving corrosion prevention policies.

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