Officials want BP execs to explain recent fires

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Alaska officials Tuesday said BP must address the causes of four recent North Slope oil production facility fires, reprising concerns over BP's lax maintenance practices that last year led to a partial shut down of Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field.

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Gov. Sarah Palin called the fires - all within the last 34 days and at different fields and facilities - "above and beyond anything that is acceptable."

The most recent fire occurred Monday, said Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin. There were no injuries, but the extent of damage was not immediately known.

"Their history recently hasn't been too good," Irwin said. "We want to have answers to these questions as to what's going on in the North Slope."

Meanwhile, two investigators from the newly formed Petroleum Systems Integrity Office are en route to the North Slope to investigate, coordinator Jonne Slemons said.

Also investigating is the state fire marshal's office.

Fires at two Prudhoe Bay facilities and two satellite fields have occurred separately. The earlier fires were Aug. 6, Aug. 10 and Aug. 26.

"It becomes a bit more urgent that it's happening over and over again," Slemons said. "It does bring to mind the question, is there a broad cause-and-effect situation going on here."

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said no one was injured at any of the fires, and they do not reflect a systemic problem on the North Slope.

"These are distinct events and not part of any kind of a pattern," Rinehart said. "We have a big operation and fires are regrettable, but they do happen in oil fields.

"We are prepared for them," Rinehart said. "We have a very sophisticated, multilayered safety system in place."

Slemons said the administration hopes to meet with BP officials, including BP Exploration (Alaska) President Doug Suttles and Technical Director Tony Brock, within the next few days.

Rinehart said while the notice is short, the company routinely tries to accommodate such requests.

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