Thursday :: Apr 29, 2010

BP and Oil Spills

by Mary

As we watch the slow but inevitable environmental calamity moving toward the Gulf states, I couldn't help but remember another massive oil spill in Alaska in which BP was involved.

In 2006, I wrote about that incident (story below the fold). Clearly off-shore oil drilling isn't as environmentally friendly as the petroleum industry would have you believe.

Timeline: August 2006

BP Chairman speaking at StanfordBP, formerly known as British Petroleum, has marketed itself heavily as the greenest oil company, even going so far as to say that they believe BP stands for "Beyond Petroleum." They've been quite successful at working the environmental organizations in their campaign to separate themselves from the dinosaurs like Exxon Mobil. But, with the disclosure this week that their Prudoe Bay pipeline must be shutdown in order to take care of years of neglected repairs, that reputation has suffered a big blow.

But that carefully-crafted "Beyond Petroleum" image led by its green-friendly chief executive John Browne may be in jeopardy as BP deals with the latest blow to its U.S. operations -- the shutdown of its massive Prudhoe Bay, Alaska oil field after a spill from a corroded pipeline.

Now it looks like much of their story was just a Potemkin sham and the drive for profits has overcome their responsibility for taking care of their own equipment. And in this they were aided and abetted by our government who has decided that industry is overregulated.

March spill

The annoucement about the Prudoe bay pipeline reminded me of another story I read back in March. Back then, a very large spill was found on the pipeline that indicated not all was well.

The spill was discovered early Thursday morning by BP operators visually inspecting lines, Beaudo said. He was not sure how long it took to respond but said the line was quickly blocked and depressurized.

BP workers also shut down Gathering Center 2 in response. Gathering centers separate oil from water and other materials that come out of the ground during drilling.

The spill was about a mile from the gathering center, which processes about 100,000 barrels of Prudhoe Bay's daily production of 470,000 barrels. That oil is fed into the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline, which provides nearly 17 percent of domestic oil production and carries about 850,000 barrels per day from all sources.

The spill was not detected by automated leak detection systems, which are geared to automatically shut down pipelines during catastrophic failures.

"They are not necessarily as sensitive to very small leaks at any one time," Beaudo said.

Air monitors measuring high levels of hydrocarbons kept crews away Thursday morning. Beaudo said there could have been an explosion risk as well as a breathing risk for workers.

Even then back in March, Chuck Hamel, a oil industry critic, indicated that the leak was much bigger than BP had admitted and the problem was poor maintenance.

The amount spilled is far greater than BP and government officials are saying, according to oil industry critic Chuck Hamel. Hamel, of Alexandria, Va., said he learned from onsite personnel that the spill volume is closer to 798,000 gallons, which would make it the second largest oil spill in Alaska, second only to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound.

Hamel said meters record the volume flowing into the pipe as well as the amount leaving it.

"There's a 798,000 gallon discrepancy," he said in a phone interview.

Tuesday, in an interview with NBC News, a federal official in charge of pipeline safety charged that BP has been doing inadequate maintenance for 15 years.

It is clear that the shutdown of the pipeline should not have been unexpected as the problems along the pipeline have been known for quite a while. While BP was polishing its green sheen, it was also directing its workers to neglect performing the basic maintenance on the pipeline.

"I think this was predictable and preventable," says Phil Flynn, an energy analyst with Alaron Trading Corp.

In fact, allegations about BP's maintenance practices have been so persistent that a criminal investigation now is under way into whether BP has for years deliberately shortchanged maintenance and falsified records to cover it up.

The criminal probe was triggered by Chuck Hamel, a longtime nemesis of the oil companies and advocate for oil workers.

"They're playing the Russian roulette up there," he says.

Hamel says a dozen past and current BP employees came to him claiming they'd been told to cut back on a chemical put into the system to retard rust and corrosion, and to falsify records. A federal official confirms that many of these workers have also talked to the FBI.

"They were telling me that they were not properly injecting the corrosion inhibitors into the system," says Hamel.

Does he think it was deliberate?

"Absolutely," he says, "to save money."

This week, in announcing the shutdown, BP acknowledged that a key maintenance procedure to check for sludge — known as "pigging" — had not been performed in more than a decade.

It looks like BP's greenwash has been just as manufactured as Chevron's "People Do" campaign where more money was put into the ads than put into programs that the ads talked about.

The solution is to stop killing the Electric Car and seriously start kicking our oil habit. We can't afford the neverending oil wars nor the destructive damages that come from large petroleum companies proclaiming their environmental credentials while neglecting their responsibilities to the people and our environment.

Mary :: 11:03 AM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!