BP's Other Ticking Time Bomb: Prudhoe Bay

Tuesday, 15 June 2010 13:02 By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report | name.

BP
(Photo: abmatic)

Four years ago, BP's then-Chairman and President Robert Malone, during testimony before Congress, offered lawmakers a mea culpa.

"We recognize that there has been a series of troubling problems that are unacceptable to us and contrary to our values," Malone said, referring to revelations following the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope, that the conglomerate, among other things, failed for more than a decade to inspect its pipelines for corrosion and retaliated against employees who raised safety concerns. "I commit to members of Congress that I have been given the authority, the resources and the people to assure you that BP America will overcome and ultimately be strengthened by this challenge."

Since then, BP was supposed to implement new policies, particularly in the area of "integrity management," which Malone told Congress the company was going to invest heavily in over the course of two years to ensure that its operations in Prudhoe Bay, the largest oilfield in North America, ran safely and smoothly. BP runs Prudhoe Bay on behalf of production partners Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco Phillips and Chevron USA Inc.

Although BP has replaced a portion of the corroded pipelines responsible for the March and August 2006 oil spills and made some minor improvements in other areas, internal BP documents that have not been previously released, and interviews conducted with more than a dozen employees over the past month revealed that poor management and the company's culture of cost-cutting in Prudhoe Bay has not changed and the scrimping may be responsible for at least two recent major oil spills and other major catastrophes.

"The condition of the field is a lot worse and in my opinion a lot more dangerous," said Marc Kovac, who has worked for BP on Alaska's North Slope for more than three decades. "We still have hundreds of miles of rotting pipe ready to break that needs to be replaced. We are totally unprepared for a spill."

Kovac, a mechanic and welder who is the steward of the United Steelworkers union local 4959 and part of the organization's executive board, said he is "taking a big risk" by speaking publicly about BP's Prudhoe Bay operations. He said a lot of employees who are also union members share his feelings. But they are "not as aggressive as I am and don't want to get BP mad."

"They don't want to risk their jobs for speaking out," he said. Kovac acknowledged that he could be fired for discussing the issues he said is currently plaguing the oilfield. But he is doing so, he noted, because his concerns have not been swiftly dealt with and "many lives are at stake."

The integrity of BP's Prudhoe Bay operations will likely worsen in the months ahead, employees said, as the company shifts additional resources toward the Gulf of Mexico to deal with the oil gusher, which has destroyed vast swaths of wetlands and is slowly killing wildlife along the Gulf Coast. Indeed, a senior official in Prudhoe Bay, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal business matters, said, "a leadership vacuum is emerging and projects are starting to slip because so many of the Alaska leadership are involved in the Gulf spill."

Kovac said it's only a matter of time before Prudhoe Bay is saddled with "more accidents."

"We're not in good shape protecting people's lives and the US oil infrastructure," Kovac said. "Just give BP a little time and something will happen. You just have to wait. This is going to continue. The incidents will accelerate and people will be injured and some will die."

Many employees said BP still employs an "operate to failure" attitude, which Kovac explained meant that BP Alaska would rather not spend any money on "upkeep" and instead will just allow equipment to break down.

A Rupture and a Spill

Months before the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon that claimed the lives of 11 employees and ruptured an oil well 5,000 feel below the Gulf's surface, the North Slope was the victim of yet another massive oil spill.

On November 29, at about 3:00 AM, a BP Alaska employee performing a routine check discovered oil pouring out from a two-foot long gash on the bottom of the pipeline located about 1.5 miles from the Lisburne Production Center, according to an incident report from the Alaska Department of Environment and Conservation's (ADEC) Division of Spill and Response.

"The spill was from an 18-inch three-phase common line carrying a mixture of crude oil, produced water, and natural gas," according to the ADEC report. BP Alaska's "preliminary estimate for the total volume of oily material released is 45,828 gallons (1,091 barrels)."

The circumstances behind the spill are now the subject of a criminal and civil investigation by the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alaska state authorities. BP blamed the rupture on ice plugs that built up inside the pipeline, which led to an increase in pressure and caused it to burst. The pipeline has been in operation for 25 years.

A few weeks before the rupture, the pipeline was shut down because oil was unable to flow. A larger, neighboring pipeline was used to pick up the slack.

In a January 27 letter sent to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had inquired about the spill a month earlier, BP Alaska President John Minge said the "overpressure rupture" was the result of looping the 18-inch pipeline with the larger, 24-inch one as a way of minimizing "backpressure in the individual pipelines" and decreasing the likelihood of "oil slugging events."

"The two critical factors that led to the overpressure rupture of the pipeline were this looped configuration in combination with inadequate temperature monitoring locations" that were "physically located on the pipelines" inside the production facility "and not outside," according to a copy of Minge's letter to Murkowski. Minge further explained that after the spill, BP analyzed "historical temperature data" and discovered that the pipeline that burst "started to slow in late May 2008 and stopped altogether in June."

A person who works closely with BP and reviewed Minge's letter to Murkowski said, "it does not pass the laugh test."

"When he indicates that the temperature sensors were located inside the buildings - obviously this shows a lack of attention to monitoring the pipelines," said this person, who requested anonymity because he continues to perform work for the company. "It is not just a mistake in placement of the monitors. The letter shows that they knew the line had a low flow rate and would go to the path of least resistance. Therefore, knowing that this field is located well above the Arctic Circle - you don't need a temperature sensor to know that by early November there will sub-zero temperatures in place. So, a basic risk assessment should have identified this possibility well before you needed a temperature sensor to tell you what the temperature in the line would be."

"Classically, these true deficiencies are not presented in his letter and the answer that say they responded when they knew the line was frozen is a bit ridiculous," this person added. "The information presented in the letter shows that they should have foreseen this event well before the temperature started dropping. I find the term comprehensive risk assessment that he used as something they really don't get."

A top BP Prudhoe Bay official, who has grown "disillusioned" with the company's management style over the past year, agreed.

"Someone was clearly not paying attention to the flow," said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal matters. "The temperature dropped and the line froze. This shouldn't have happened. I equate this with a lack of operating discipline and place the blame squarely on leadership."

Kovac said the issue is much simpler than the explanation Minge gave to Murkowski.

Lisburne "is one of our worst facilities here on the Slope," Kovac said. "It's a mess. There are major operational and integrity issues that have not been dealt with."

He added that BP failed to take precautionary measures to "freeze protect" the pipeline when it was last inspected in 2008. He said cold temperatures cause pipelines to expand, making them more fragile.

"BP's decision to not adhere to standard industry practice and freeze protect the 18 inch line from [Lisburne] resulted in the line freezing, expanding and breaking, spilling product onto the tundra," said Kovac, who does not work at Lisburne. "It was stretched too many times and broke. There are hundreds of pipelines flowing in this condition. BP chose to save money. They thought [the pipeline] was open to a parallel flowing line and guessing and hoping that line would stay thawed out."

Two weeks after the spill, a "red flag" email sent by BP's Prudhoe Bay operations manager, to officials and employees on the oilfield, advised employees of the "importance of adhering to established processes that ensure freeze prevention in flow lines, as well as, appropriate responses when freezing occurs."

Smoking Gun?

But there may have been other factors at play that led to the pipeline rupture at Lisburne, some of which appear to suggest poor management and cutbacks on safety.

Underscoring that point is an email sent to BP officials in Alaska last January from an employee who works at the Lisburne Production Center. The author of the email, who requested anonymity because he fears BP would retaliate against him, said Lisburne is "operating in [an] unsafe condition."

The employee listed more than a dozen pieces of crucial production equipment that he claimed were not working or were out of service at Lisburne during the time of the spill, thereby "leaving no back up to running equipment and equipment out of service which should be on-line as per the system requirements to run the plant."

"With minimum manning in maintenance and operations we are basically running a broken plant with too few people to address the problems in a timely and safe manner," the employee said. "Operations can not rely on Management to provide them with a safe and reliable plant to work in. The management of our maintenance at [Lisburne Production Center] simply is not working to maintain a safe operation. This gap in maintenance management causes problems that increase the overall risk of plant integrity and personnel safety."

Two BP management officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters, said budget cuts were largely the reason equipment was not upgraded or repaired and indicated that much of it has yet to be addressed.

A document BP sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee before the Gulf disaster, said budget cuts have not impacted projects that need to be funded at Prudhoe Bay. The company said the fear by employees that budget cuts would impact "integrity investment" was likely due to "dramatic changes in oil prices and economic uncertainty in late 2008 and continuing into 2009."

"This perception was likely heightened by [BP Alaska's] challenge to its contractors in early 2009 to deliver cost efficiencies ..." the budget document sent to the House Energy Committee said. "In [the third quarter of 2009, the Office of the Ombudsman received two letters containing a concern from an anonymous group of employees principally regarding the potential for 2010 budget cuts and a perceived lack of line operations input to the budget ... We communicated with the workforce, through townhalls and emails in Anchorage and on the North Slope, our commitment to safety as the top priority, continuous risk reduction and bottoms-up planning. Our commitment is to activities that reduce risk - we target efficiency improvements to complete these activities at lower cost."

The document indicates BP deferred or "re-paced" some projects, but the company said it "risk-assessed each of the activities and identified mitigative measures to reduce any risk to safe operations."

One of the most critical safety issues raised in the Lisburne employee's email that will undercuts BP's commitment to "integrity management" has to do with "louvers" that he said fail to seal, an issue that has allegedly persisted for years. Louvers are connected to the production facilities' fire and gas suppression systems and are supposed to remain closed to trap a halon discharge in the event of fire or a gas buildup. Halon is a chemical that prevents explosions.

"Simply put," said one employee who works at Lisburne, "if those louvers don't seal and there is a fire or gas is released people could die."

In fact, according to a top BP official, who works on the North Slope, and six Prudhoe Bay employees, they were told that it is likely if BP were to test all of the louvers at North Slope facilities they would fail to seal and the fire and gas suppression systems would be ineffective, which means workers are presently in imminent danger in the event of a gas buildup or a fire.

Moreover, internal BP documents indicated that as of April 11, a week before the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, the louvers were not operating and, at the time, would not be dealt with until December 31. It's unclear if the Gulf disaster and the financial resources being poured into the cleanup will further delay the repairs.

The Alaska state fire marshal, who would be responsible for inspecting the louvers and other fire- and gas-related equipment to ensure it works properly, did not return a call for comment.

The employee's email, Truthout has learned, is now in the hands of criminal investigators and BP's probation officer, Mary Frances Barnes, who are scrutinizing the employee's claims to determine if it had any bearing on the pipeline rupture last November and whether it would amount to a probation violation for the company. BP pleaded guilty in October 2007 to a criminal misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, resulting from two oil spills on the North Slope in 2006, both of which resulted from severely corroded pipelines that the company failed to upkeep. The company was placed on probation for three years.

Tyler Amon is the special agent-in-charge at the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division probing the circumstances behind last November's oil spill. He did not return calls for comment nor did Barnes or a spokesperson for the FBI. The email has also been sent to Congressman Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Waxman's office did not return several calls for comment.

As of June 5, Lisburne was shut down for planned maintenance. It's unknown if BP intends to address any of the maintenance and operational issues described in the email.

Spill, Baby, Spill

A month into the Gulf disaster, another major spill occurred, this one resulting from a power outage at a pump station along the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) operated by BP's Alyeska Pipeline Service. The pipeline sends crude oil to fields in Prudhoe Bay. It moves anywhere from 600,000 to 700,000 barrels of oil per day and represents 15 percent of US crude oil production, sending the crude to fields in Prudhoe Bay.

Oil started to flow back into the tanks at Pump Station 9, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks and the site of several previous maintenance failures, when a backup battery failed. Because the power was out, no one was able to determine the amount of oil that flowed into the tanks, which eventually overflowed and spilled into a containment area at the pump station. The TAPS pipeline was shut down for several days.

Kovac said the issue could have been avoided and he blames state regulators and environmental officials, in addition to BP, for the oil spill, which was estimated to be in the range of several thousand barrels.

"In the case of pump 9 there wasn't any staff monitoring the process," he said, adding that BP "pulled the crews" out of Pump Station 9 who, in addition to other duties, are supposed to immediately respond to spills.

"What happened was during a maintenance shutdown the backup power failed, emergency valves released oil into a tank, the tank overflowed onto the ground but within the secondary containment area (a gravel berm area surrounding the tanks)," he said. "If there were workers on hand monitoring the systems, the spill probably would not have occurred, the upset would not have occurred. If the oil did somehow spill it would have been minimal but the closest staff to this spill were at Pump Station 10, which is miles away. Travel time allowed a large amount of oil to spill out onto the ground while they drove across the tundra to respond to it."

Two BP officials said the plan to remove crews from the pump station was met with protest by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). But the agency eventually gave in and approved of the proposal. An ADEC spokesperson would not respond to repeated requests for comment.

"Since there aren't any BP staff left on this 800 mile line who can respond to spills BP asked our group of volunteer spill responders in March to cover the line from now on," Kovac said. "We now know BP did not have a plan. The contracted spill response group, ACS, is working to develop a plan now. We are asked to travel down the Haul Road possibly a couple hundred miles if necessary to respond to future spills."

"Hopping"

Kovac, and other employees who confirmed his claims, also raised red flags about a newly constructed pipeline currently in use, which feeds directly into pump station 1 along TAPS, that he said was poorly designed. This was a portion of the pipeline that was severely corroded and ruptured in 2006, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil across the frozen tundra, which resulted in the largest oil spill on the North Slope.

Eight employees said the two-mile long rebuilt pipeline has experienced "severe hopping up and down on the vertical support members," due to high winds. That has caused stress on the "pipewall" and weld joints on sections connected to the vertical support members.

"The harmonics in [the pipeline] allowed it to bounce up and down," Kovac said. "BP rectified the problem by placing timbers under the line between the vertical support members [which is not unusual] about two months ago. As far as I know, there isn't a plan in place to fix the problem."

Kovac and other employees added that there are other pipelines that were corroded that should have been replaced three years ago that haven't been, a spill detection system hasn't been installed.

Overworked

One of the other major issues, according to Kovac and other employees, that may also have been a contributing factor in the two most recent oil spills and has been identified in internal company documents as an "imminent safety risk" is 16- to 18-hour work shifts, due in large part to a shortage of trained personnel.

BP's own internal studies have shown that employees who work more than 16 hours during a 24-hour time period can lack the mental capacity to make sound and timely decisions. Yet, during 2009, 16-plus hour work shifts became routine at Prudhoe Bay, with employees working beyond 16 hours about 200-400 times per month, 75 percent of which represented 18-hour work shifts, according to internal BP documents.

BP employees who work at Prudhoe Bay are supposed to work 12-hour shifts for two weeks and then receive two weeks off. Employees who work beyond 12 hours receive overtime pay. Kovac said the overtime issue has been ongoing for several years and despite complaints dating back more than a decade, BP has only recently been addressed because of a fear employees would publicize it.

He said some employees are "happy" to work beyond 12 hours because BP pays very well and workers can earn a healthy salary in overtime alone. But, he said, it's "not a healthy situation and creates a dangerous environment."

"It's not a good idea," Kovac said. "Working more than 12 hours during a shift affects decision making and response time and can cause disasters. People have to take catnaps while operating large volumes of hydrocarbons under high pressure. We will have accidents as a result of it."

BP has addressed the issue by hiring technicians, but even that has not solved the problem as it takes three to four years, Kovac said, for a trainee to be fully prepared to work on the North Slope.

"The number of new technicians sent to the operating facilities since 2006 and the slower than expected pace of newly-hired technician training has not kept pace with 'leavers,' new work activities requiring substantial facility/field production technician support, and support for external commitments made and BP initiatives," according to an October 2009 internal BP document discussing overtime concerns and its impact on the safe operations of Prudhoe Bay.

"Additionally, the facility and field production authorized complements are insufficient relative to the quantity of absences that occur continuously; thus, the combination of vacancies, not-fully qualified technicians, and absences results in 'open positions' for facility staffing that must be filled by 18 hour work shifts. Currently, as much as 50 percent of the 16-plus hour work shifts result from 'open positions' filled to cover vacancies and absences to staff facilities and field production positions to the level we established through [Preliminary Hazard Analysis] for safe operation."

"Thirty to forty-five percent of the 16-plus hour work shifts are caused by work activities associated with commitments made to deliver against targets established for external commitments or performance contracts," the BP document says. "Five to 15 percent of 16-plus hour work shifts are caused by work activities directly associated with production. Wellpad operators are being consistently scheduled for 16-plus hour work shifts (primarily 18 hour work shifts) in order to fill 'open positions'. Since wellpad operators are designated professional drivers, the scheduling represents a deliberate non-conformance to BP Group Standard for Driving Safety and [the BP Exploration Alaska] Driving Safety Policy."

The document advised BP's management in Alaska to immediately intervene in order to reduce the 16-plus hour work shifts and, if that did not happen, then an explanation must be given to employees, BP's corporate officials, Congress, and others that BP Alaska is willing to accept the "current condition of risk for a number of years until accelerated hiring has an eventual impact."

"Allowing the continuation of the 16-plus hour work shifts would be seen by internal and external stakeholders as putting production ahead of safety," the document said.

In a letter dated February 3, 2010, prepared for BP Alaska President Minge, BP's Ombudsman, former CIA General Counsel and retired Judge Stanley Sporkin, said his office has been "engaged in oversight of the overtime and staffing issues that continue to be raised by employees."

"As a result of these concerns, [BP Alaska] changed its overtime policies to limit the number of hours of overtime that can be worked continuously," said Sporkin's letter, which was prepared for Minge in response to recent Congressional inquiries about Prudhoe Bay. "In addition, it is taking a more comprehensive approach to hiring and training technicians and operators so that there is more availability of personnel and less need for overtime by the current workforce. These changes will take a while to implement."

Lingering Safety Issue

Back in 2001, Kovac and several other BP employees and management officials prepared an Operations Integrity Review report identifying safety and maintenance issues the company needed to address to protect the welfare of its workers.

One of the items employees identified that was in dire need of upgrading was the fire and gas systems at the North Slope facilities, a project estimated to cost about $1 billion that should have been completed, depending on who you speak to, in 2003 or 2005.

After the massive oil spills in March and August 2006, many of the same employees, along with a top BP Prudhoe Bay official, conducted a re-review of the 2001 report to determine what projects BP still needed to tackle. Nearly a decade later, the fire and gas systems have yet to be fully upgraded, largely due to budget cuts

According to a document prepared for the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year, BP admitted that the project "did not proceed as quickly as we had anticipated, but the company claims the "slower pace did not reflect a change in our level of commitment, but rather was a conscientious adjustment during 2008 that we undertook for technical reasons as we learned more about the scale and complexities of the project."

BP claims it invested twice as much money in 2000 than it did in 2008 - $49 million - and, as of February, was set to spend another $60 million on the project. But while that may sound like quite a bit of money, it means that, if spending at that pace continues, it will take BP more than a decade to complete the upgrades - 20 years after employees identified it as a major safety issue.

BP denied to Congress that budget cuts have or will play a part in 2010. But that was before the disaster in the Gulf.

"You asked us what impact any proposed 'budget cuts' would have on fire and gas upgrade plans, and the answer is simple: We have not reduced our financial commitment for the fire and gas upgrade plan because of 'budget cuts,'" the document said. "The 2008 re-assessment described above was focused on technical considerations, not financial concerns."

Kovac said the fact that BP performed a "reassessment in 2008 is a self-indictment."

"They were supposed to do something years ago," he said. "And seven years pass and you still haven't finished. When is the issue going to be resolved? It's a very simple question. How many facilities are obsolete that need fire and prevention system upgrades? This is not that complicated. How many? BP won't say."

BP had promised to share a copy of the results of the 2007 re-review with Kovac and other employees, but "at the last minute BP pulled the plan to inform the workers of the re-review," Kovac said.

Mischaracterizing the Facts

Since the 2006 oil spills, Congress has stepped up its oversight of BP, mainly in the form of writing letters to company officials and requesting documents about the status of various projects and inquiring about other matters brought to the attention of lawmakers by employees working at Prudhoe Bay.

In January, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-California), the chairman of the House Energy Committee, and Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, did just that when they sent a letter to Minge, seeking information about how BP was managing its Prudhoe Bay operations as well as internal reports about the circumstances behind five serious incidents at Prudhoe Bay dating back to September 2008, one of which ended in tragedy.

In addition, the lawmakers sought information from the ombudsman's office regarding the "number and type of concerns received and the actions the company has taken in response." The ombudsman's office was set up in 2006 in the aftermath of the oil spills and investigates concerns raised by employees about a wide-range of issues, such as safety, maintenance, retaliation and harassment.

Minge wrote to Sporkin, the ombudsman, asking him to provide him with a report to turn over to Waxman's committee. Sporkin drafted a six-page letter. He said, since 2006, the office has registered 202 employee concerns, more than half of which generated from Alaska.

"Our second biggest case load has come from Texas City employees, where we have recently been involved in resolving work environment issues and concerns in one of its important departments, and have intervened in other proposed operational decisions that employees were concerned about to achieve satisfactory outcomes," Sporkin wrote in a February 3, 2010 letter to Minge.

Texas City was the site of a refinery explosion in March 2005 that claimed the lives of 15 employees and injured 170 others. BP pled guilty to a felony Clean Air Act violation in connection with the disaster and paid a $50 million fine. Numerous investigations revealed that cost cutting on safety and maintenance played a role in the explosion,

Sporkin also said his office "had the opportunity to address concerns at two off-shore platforms, including a case that came in on Christmas Eve 2006 regarding potential safety issues in an operation planned for over the holiday." It's unknown what the substance was of the incident involving offshore drilling platforms to which Sporkin was referring.

The Office of the Ombudsman, according to Sporkin's letter, places employee concerns into three categories: Level 1 represents "system integrity or safety issues," and is the most serious; issues that could impact safety are classified as level 2 and human resources issues are identified as level 3. The ombudsman's office is currently conducting 57 investigations.

In explaining how successful he felt the ombudsman program has been, Sporkin cited a level 1 safety incident that took place during the summer of 2008, "involving a high pressure gas line that runs across the field, including in close proximity to several North Slope housing camps and critical facilities."

"The Concerned Individual identified that the line, which was scheduled for 'smart' pigging [a device used for cleaning and identifying corrosion], was not going to be pigged in 2008 as a result of deferred work necessary to enable the pigging operation," Sporkin wrote. "As a result of the Ombudsman's intervention, and management support, [BP Alaska] undertook substantial compensatory actions through alternative testing to assure that those parts of the line that presented potential a safety risk to people or facilities were evaluated. Indeed, several areas of risk identified and repaired during the operation, and other areas were more closely monitored. The level of effort undertaken throughout the winter season was extraordinary, and the line was successfully pigged in 2009, with additional repairs ongoing. This is an example of the value from our intervention activities."

There was just one problem with Sporkin's explanation prepared for Congress: it wasn't entirely true. BP management did not immediately deal with the issue involving the natural gas injection line, nor was it originally brought to the attention of Sporkin in 2008. It surfaced two years earlier when Stuart Sneed, a contract employee with a stellar safety record, brought the matter to the attention of Paul Flaherty, an environmental investigator who does work for BP as well as the ombudsman's office.

In an interview, Flaherty said after Sneed raised the concerns with him about corrosion on the high-pressure gas line, he looked into it and found enough evidence to prove the allegations were true and the line was in fact in "very bad shape."

"It represented a level 1 imminent danger situation," Flaherty said. "There could have been a major explosion. I brought it to BP management and was assured that they would immediately deal with it. Over the course of about two years, I would check to see where they were. I was told [by BP Alaska officials] 'we're moving on this,' but it turned out they did nothing during that time to fix it. All I got was lip service."

By this point, Flaherty interviewed Sneed's employees during the course of his investigation, who said, "[Sneed] [w]as likely to be the most careful technician on the Slope" and "one of the best inspectors" became the subject of retaliation by the company under contract to BP, Acuren, for reporting the matter to Flaherty. His supervisor invented a long list of safety issues that Sneed was accused of violating and he was eventually fired in 2007, and waged an unsuccessful, and costly, legal battle against BP.

Sneed "was retaliated against by Acuren with support by BP management," Flaherty said. "He was blacklisted and is without a job since 2007 because of his willingness to raise integrity and safety issues."

Flaherty said after his unsuccessful attempts over the course of two years to get BP to repair the corroded natural gas injection line, he took the matter to Sporkin and, only after Sporkin intervened, did BP take action. But Flaherty said he couldn't positively say the injection line no longer presents an imminent risk because BP has not shared the inspection data with him.

Flaherty said in March, after Sporkin shared with him a copy of the letter he prepared for Minge, he contacted Sporkin to inform him that the facts surrounding the 2008 case in his letter were incorrect. He advised Sporkin to correct the record with Waxman's committee. But according to an investigator on the Energy Committee, Sporkin never did.

Kovac and other BP employees said they don't believe BP has the wherewithal to tackle the issues plaguing Prudhoe Bay.

"This company seems incapable of managing its assets safely," Kovac said. "The only way Prudhoe Bay will get fixed is if another company manages the operations."

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 15:49