BP on notice after Alaska spills in Houston
By Sheila McNulty (Houston)

Financial Times
30 May 2003

BP suffered two spills this week in Alaska that could undermine the UK oil and gas company's move for early termination of its federal probation for a previous spill of hazardous waste.

Regulators suspect both spills were caused by corrosion.

If BP is found to be at fault for the spills, it could face further citations by state authorities, which this year have cited the company for a well explosion that caused a spill and seriously injured an operator and the separate death of a contract welder.

An additional citation could harden BP's probation, said Ed Meggert, head of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation northern spill response office.

BP has been on probation since 2000, after it pleaded guilty to one felony count of knowingly failing to report immediately the release into the environment of a hazardous substance in Alaska.

The company was fined $500,000 and ordered to set up a national environment management system. Its probation states it shall commit no further violations of environmental laws, regulations or permits of the US, including those for which primary enforcement has been delegated to a state.

"Any action we might take would trigger the fine being held in abeyance," Mr Meggert said. His team will investigate why BP missed the corrosion.

BP acted on Tuesday to contain the more troubling spill, which Mr Meggert estimates could include as much as 500 gallons of oil around a "caribou crossing" - a pipeline carrying crude oil, water and gas that has been buried to allow caribou to cross.

Paul Laird, BP spokesman, said the group learned of the spill after an inspector noted sheens on puddles from melting snow.

However, BP may have been advised of the sheens on Monday and is investigating why the response would have been delayed.

Mr Laird said the source of the leak had not been identified, but the pipeline had been shut down and depressurised, while the wells producing into the line had been shut.

He has estimated the impact on daily production at 8,000-10,000 barrels, but does not know how long the wells will be shut.

BP has yet to establish the cause and extent of the spill. It is being contained by a boom over about an acre, with the help of vacuum trucks and other response equipment.

So far, Mr Laird said, there were no known injuries to wildlife, and noise-makers were being used to keep birds from landing in the area.

The other incident, on Sunday, was a 1,700-gallon water spill inside a crude oil processing centre. About half a gallon leaked outside the facility. BP has blamed the leak on corrosion in one of the lines.

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