BP Alaska’s Aging, Corroded Pipelines Concern Workers

As BP tries to recover from the public relations damage caused by the Horizon oil spill, another potentially dangerous situation has emerged thousands of miles away. An internal maintenance report obtained by ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism group, shows the oil giant gave an “F-rank” score to at least 148 BP pipelines located on the North Slope of Alaska.

According to BP workers, the score indicates that severe corrosion has been found along over 80 percent of the pipeline wall. The pipelines, which move oil and gas between the company’s Alaska operations, also carry waste including flammable and toxic substances.  If the weakened pipelines rupture, spills and explosions are dangerous possibilities. Highly corroded pipes can be just millimeters away from bursting.

Frustrated workers cite ageing turbines and holding tanks as other potential threats. A collapse of one of these giant pieces of equipment would prove extremely dangerous. Some workers are also concerned that the current gas and fire warning systems are outdated and unreliable.

Four years ago, BP garnered unwanted national attention when corroded pipes resulted in two Alaskan spills. The subsequent inspection and repair of the pipeline system created a temporary closing of oil transmission to the continental U.S., shutting off 8 percent of the nation’s oil supply.

Mechanics and welders responsible for maintaining the intricate system of pipes, turbines and tanks worry about the potential collapse of enormous tanks filled with toxic waste and corrosive sediment. Employees noted the modification of compressing turbines to operate at higher temperatures and increased stress levels over the original capacity recommendations.

Welder Marc Kovac reported hundreds of patches on some BP pipelines, and questioned the financial commitment of the company to keep up with necessary repairs. “They’re going to run this out as far as they can without leaving one dollar on the table when they leave,” he said. Other employees were equally frustrated with BP’s response to their concerns. Union representative and oil worker Kris Dye said, “When you make a complaint about it, rather than fix it, they come up with another Band-Aid.”

In response, Steve Rinehart, BP’s Alaska spokesperson, said the F-rank grade was serious, but does not automatically translate to an immediate safety risk. “We will not operate equipment or facilities that we believe are unsafe,” he said. Rinehart defended BP’s policies, saying the company invests millions of dollars in “an aggressive and comprehensive pipeline inspection and maintenance program.” BP completes over 100,000 inspections every year on its over 2600 kilometers of pipeline.