Feds want to revoke BP probation in Alaska

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A federal probation officer has asked a judge to revoke BP's probation in Alaska, saying the company's conduct in a November 2009 North Slope oil spill was negligent.

Mary Frances Barnes alleges in a petition in federal court Wednesday that the 2009 incident violated probation conditions for BP that had been set in 2007 for a spill the year before, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

BP disputes the government characterization of its operations.

"We've made measurable improvements in safety and reliability," said spokesman Steve Rinehart said. Among other things, BP replaced corroded transit pipelines with new lines at a cost of $500 million.

"We will answer the government's legal filing in due course," Rinehart said.

In November 2007, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. resolved a misdemeanor Clean Water Act charge arising from the earlier spill through a plea agreement. The corporation was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to pay $20 million in fines and restitution. In that spill, more than 200,000 gallons of oil leaked from a corroded, poorly maintained pipeline on Alaska's North Slope.

The period of probation was set to end Nov. 28. But with the new court filing, it will continue until the matter is resolved.

A decision on whether to revoke the probation will be up to U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline.

The judge could disagree with the government's assertion or he could agree to extend BP's probation or revoke it and impose a new sentence, said Kevin Feldis, chief of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alaska.

A misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act carries a maximum of five years of probation for a corporate defendant. The U.S. Attorney's Office maintains BP could be hit with five more years of probation, on top of the three already served, though BP is likely to contest that. Fines can vary wildly depending on how they are calculated. The judge also could impose new requirements during probation, such as increased monitoring of oil pipelines.

The case to revoke probation revolves around a November 2009 rupture of an 18-inch pipeline carrying a mix of oil, water and natural gas from wells to the Lisburne Production Center, where the materials were separated.

The breach at the bottom of the pipe was jagged and almost 2.75 feet long, Barnes said in the new court filing. The discharged oil amounted to about 13,000 gallons, and it coated tundra within a quarter mile of Prudhoe Bay. In all, almost 46,000 gallons of crude and oily water spewed, covering about one-quarter acre, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The contaminated area has been cleaned up, according to BP and the DEC. Polluted snow, tundra and soil were hauled away, and BP resodded the area with sections of unspoiled tundra that needed to be removed from another area.

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