Monday, August 21, 2006

Employees accuse BP over safety

Employees accuse BP over safety
By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 20 2006 22:01 | Last updated: August 20 2006 22:01

US environmental investigators are examining allegations by employees that BP manipulated inspection data to avoid replacing pipelines at Prudhoe Bay, its 30-year-old Alaskan field, the FT has learned. BP denies the allegations.

In a separate move, Alaska’s attorney-general, David Marquez, has issued subpoenas to BP, as operator and an owner of the field, and its co-owners, “to preserve all documents that may be relevant to corrosion at Prudhoe Bay”.

The parallel investigations into BP’s credibility as operator of North America’s largest oilfield are yet further blows to the company, which is under heightened regulatory scrutiny in the US after major lapses at its Alaskan and Texas operations within the past two years.

Lord Browne, BP’s chief executive, might yet be drawn into the growing controversy over whether BP mismanaged parts of its US operations. A Texas court is to decide next week whether to require Lord Browne to give sworn testimony about how much he knew of the state of the Texas City refinery, which exploded last year, killing 15 and injuring an estimated 500 people.

The spill in Alaska in March – the biggest ever at Prudhoe Bay – raised questions about whether BP’s problems were symptomatic of a broader deficiency in its safety culture in the US.

In Alaska, BP workers told the FT they had reported to criminal investigators at the US Environmental Protection Agency that the company was negligent in maintaining pipelines at Prudhoe Bay.

The investigation of those charges is tied to a grand jury probe into whether to bring criminal charges against BP and/or its executives. BP also is being investigated by a grand jury in Texas.

BP denies any wrongdoing, insisting the explosion in Texas was a one-off, and it only discovered “unexpectedly severe corrosion’’ in Alaska after regulators forced high-tech monitoring tests after the spill of more than 200,000 gallons of oil in March.

Ronnie Chappell, BP spokesman, said the company was co-operating with the grand jury investigation. “We believed our previous programme of ultrasonic inspections, corrosion coupon monitoring and the use of corrosion inhibitors in these transit lines was adequate,”’ he said. “We now know that was not the case.”

The separate, civil court proceedings next week in Texas have been instigated by Brent Coon, the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the civil case against BP, after the company refused to permit Lord Browne to give a sworn deposition.


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