Journalism in the Public Interest

With All Eyes on the Gulf, BP Alaska Facilities Are Still at Risk

BP employees and contractors in Alaska say the facilities there were built in the 1970s to operate for about 15 years. When the company realized there was far more oil to be had, it extended the operation for several more decades. Now workers say equipment, like these high pressure gas lines, isn't inspected frequently enough and is being "run to failure," risking a leak and a major explosion. (Photo courtesy of BP workers)

This post has been corrected on Nov. 5, 2010 and Jan. 10, 2011.

The extensive pipeline system that moves oil, gas and waste throughout BP's operations in Alaska is plagued by severe corrosion, according to an internal maintenance report generated four weeks ago.

The document, obtained by ProPublica, shows that as of Oct. 1, 2010 at least 148 BP pipelines on Alaska's North Slope received an "F-rank" from the company. According to BP oilworkers, that means inspections have determined that more than 80 percent of the pipe wall is corroded and could rupture. Most of those lines carry toxic or flammable substances. Many of the metal walls of the F-ranked pipes are worn to within a few thousandths of an inch of bursting, according to the document, risking an explosion or spills.

BP oil workers also say that the company's fire- and gas-warning systems are unreliable, that the giant turbines that pump oil and gas through the system are aging, and that some oil and waste holding tanks are on the verge of collapse.

In an e-mail, BP Alaska spokesman Steve Rinehart said the company has "an aggressive and comprehensive pipeline inspection and maintenance program," which includes pouring millions of dollars into the system and regularly testing for safety, reliability and corrosion. He said that while an F-rank is serious it does not necessarily mean there is a current safety risk and that the company will immediately reduce the operating pressure in worrisome lines until it completes repairs.

“We will not operate equipment or facilities that we believe are unsafe,” he said.

Rinehart did not respond to questions about what portion of its extensive pipeline system was affected or whether 148 F-ranks were more or less than normal, except to say that it has more than 1,600 miles of pipelines and does more than 100,000 inspections a year.

In 2006, two spills from corroded pipes in Alaska placed the company's maintenance problems in the national spotlight. At the time, BP temporarily shut down transmission of a portion of its oil from its Prudhoe Bay field to the continental United States, cutting off approximately 4 percent of the nation's domestic oil supply, while it examined its pipeline system.

Photographs taken by employees in the Prudhoe Bay drilling field this summer, and viewed by ProPublica, show sagging and rusted pipelines, some dipping in gentle U-shapes into pools of water and others sinking deeply into thawing permafrost. Marc Kovac, a BP mechanic and welder, said some of the pipes have hundreds of patches on them and that BP's efforts to rehabilitate the lines were not funded well enough to keep up with their rate of decline.

"They're going to run this out as far as they can without leaving one dollar on the table when they leave," Kovac claims.

BP Alaska's operating budget is private, so the picture of its maintenance program is incomplete. But documents obtained by ProPublica show that BP has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into maintenance and equipment upgrades on the North Slope since the 2006 oil spills. In 2007, BP's maintenance budget in Alaska was nearly $195 million, four times what it was in 2004, according to a company presentation. In 2009, $49 million was budgeted to replace and upgrade the systems that detect fires and gas leaks alone.

Despite the investment, workers say that the capabilities of equipment of all types continue to be stretched and that maintenance plans set years ago remain incomplete. BP employees told ProPublica that several of the 120 turbines used to compress gas and push it through the pipelines have been modified to run at higher stress levels and higher temperatures than they were originally designed to handle. They also said that giant tanks that hold hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic fluids and waste are sagging under the load of corrosive sediment and could collapse.

"When you make a complaint about it, rather than fix it right they come up with another Band-Aid," said Kris Dye, a BP oil worker and United Steelworkers representative on the Slope. "It's very frustrating."

One critical maintenance issue concerns the replacement of the warning systems used to alert workers to a gas leak that could lead to an explosion.

The need to replace the gas detectors was made a priority in 2001 in an internal BP report that said oilfield technicians were "very concerned about continuing degradation of system reliability, and the ability of these systems to protect the workforce."

Nine years later, outdated systems to detect fire and leaked gas remain in place at some of BP's largest and most important plants, including the Central Power Station, several drill pads, and two flow stations that route oil and gas into the pipeline system.

Many of the detection systems are obsolete — the manufacturers that made them are shuttered — so replacement parts are hard to come by, said Kovac, the mechanic. More importantly, the systems have to be shut down every time BP conducts maintenance on its facilities and pipelines, because the methods used to scan the equipment for flaws have been known to trigger the ultraviolet detectors that set off the fire and gas alarms.

As a result, BP technicians on the North Slope say the detectors at some of its facilities are shut down nearly a third of the time. When they are off line, the company relies on what employees refer to as "human fire detectors" — a foot patrol that sniffs for flammable materials and listens for the hiss of broken pipes. BP has been upgrading the detection systems in recent years and has installed new ones at several facilities, including the buildings that house its workers. But many important facilities remain on the list.

According to people inside BP who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about company affairs, replacing all the detections systems could take nearly 20 years at the current rate of investment.

"They say, 'Yep, in the next few years we're going to upgrade all this fire and gas stuff and it's going to be more dependable' and blah, blah, blah,"said Glenn Trimmer, a BP technician who works on the Slope. "Well, after a few decades I'm not buying it anymore. We can't even maintain the equipment that we have."

A close call in 2007 illustrates the risks presented by aging facilities with limited alarm systems. In August of that year, a giant turbine used to compress gas before it is pumped back through the company's pipelines caught fire inside BP's Gathering Center 1 after an oil hose ruptured and spewed flammable liquid across the motor. A mechanic on patrol in the facility — seeing smoke — fled the room as the turbine burst into flames. But the automatic fire and gas alarms were never triggered.

A subsequent investigation by Alaska state authorities found that a ruptured hydraulic oil hose was jerry-rigged in a position that chaffed against the turbine's hot engine. The investigation also found that the facility's fire and gas detectors – which Kovac and Dye likened to life boats on a cruise ship — were not powered on at the time.

The turbine fire was potentially serious not only because no alarms were sounded, but because the turbine engines operate near high-pressure gas and oil pipelines that could be detonated by an uncontrolled fire. The GC-1 incident, as it was called, was classified by BP Alaska's then-president Doug Suttles as a "high potential" event, and news of the incident was distributed around the BP organization globally as a precaution.

Yet in 2010, even before the enormous costs of the Gulf spill created an estimated $30 billion in BP liabilities, the company was eking out more “efficiencies” in its Alaska budget. It said it would maintain record high funding for new projects and major repairs while reducing its budget for regular maintenance, according to a letter that BP Alaska President John Minge sent to Congress in February 2010. The letter said holding-tank inspections will be deferred and replacement of one pipeline will be postponed; flows through that line will be reduced "to mitigate erosion."

Correction: This story has been corrected to specify that BP’s 2006 shutdown of oil deliveries from the North Slope were from the Prudhoe Bay field, the largest of several distinct production fields there. Also, the shutdown interrupted 4 percent of the nation’s oil supply that comes from U.S. production, not global production.

Toxic Reverend

Nov. 3, 2010, 11:41 a.m.

Alaska can probably expect the same treatment as the Gulf:

Obama appointed Cover Up Guru Ken Feinberg 4
the BP Gulf Oil Disaster American Roulette
Tweeted 4:09 AM Nov 2nd

Oh, wait.  That has been done in Alaska before.
So we can probably expect more situations like it >

Free book 1989 Exxon Valdez Disaster cover up of
sick clean up workers Sound Truth & Corporate Myths
Mon Oct 25 2010

Politics Infiltrates EPA Chemical Database

Unless, maybe “they” can be stopped:>

Groups Organizing Scientific Integrity #Corexit #hcr
Mon Oct 11 2010


The Toxic Reverend

They just don’t care. Workers and ecosystems in danger because of BP corporate policy. Another major malfunction and major spill seems to be a totally predictable outcome.

Should BP be banned from operating in the U.S.?

You are right when you said GURU

Toxic Reverend

Nov. 3, 2010, 2:40 p.m.

Ban BP ? No way.
How about we use them to expose reality ?


American Roulette Revolvers R 4 Russians We use products services oil wells But one DA convicted 10 corporations #AR

Twitter - Tue Oct 26 2010

The Toxic Reverend - Twitter

The BP oil spill did much less damage to the coast of Louisiana as compared to the canals and pipelines dredged in a criss-cross pattern across the swamps, wetlands and estuaries across Southern Louisiana.  There needs to be accountability for the systematic destruction of the So. La. coast as well as the BP spill.

No surprise. I have sent a link to quite a few folks in Congress.

Here is a great shovel ready project. Since the Gov’t has been so willing to do take overs of companies e.g. GM perhaps they should intervene, remove BP from ownership, begin the process of pipe replacement thus putting a lot of people to work. Then we should stop BP from operating in the U.S. or off shore. I’m sure there are others who would like to take over.


it sad to say that some of us that called bp and filed a claim on the phone before all the internet and offices were put inplace are still waiting for payment, and others that call in the call center a few weeks ago are getting paid over us still,  i can tell you this country and government better not ever ask me for help,i wil laugh in their face this time, i have help our government will some things but i wont go into the details of that. i have seen things that would make this look like a waterleak in the house.  we are talking way bigger and way bigger outcome if it would have happen.


Nancy Boulicault

Nov. 3, 2010, 4:55 p.m.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. BP seems to think pictures are worth a lot of money. BP sponsors a prestigious Portrait Award in London at the National Gallery every year.
This year, I’m part of a project to empower Gulf Coast residents to paint portraits of the Gulf and send them to the BP Portrait Award in London. We’ll also be making a documentary of the project.
Our blog Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil is at the link below.

I worked in & retired from one of the major oil companies of the U.S. The mind set of all the companies is to go as far as possible when it comes to maintenance, even to the extent that happened in the gulf. It all comes down to making money. As we have experienced in the Gulf, also the Exxon Valdez, there will be more spills. If the Ice melts allowing ship travel over the top, then there will spills from that too. When these Companies are allowed to do what ever they want, Safety is way down on their list of priorities. It starts out as one, but slides a notch as each year goes by, until it’s too late. Catastrophic events will indeed happen, the Government will let them off the hook, until, the World is poisoned beyond belief.


Nov. 3, 2010, 9:27 p.m.

Jason Leopold, who has also done important work on BP Alaska, also wrote about this

Nancy Boulicault,

Sounds oily to me. They oil the gulf then want to present awards—I’m having trouble with this one.

Dear friends, do you want to have some different things?

Whether you want to give your relatives and friends, take

a few different exotic gifts? Whether you want to buy some

cheap benefits of thing? So please, let us begin now!

Click on our website
W W W ( famalegoods ) c o m

Dear friends, do you want to have some different things?

Whether you want to give your relatives and friends, take

a few different exotic gifts? Whether you want to buy some

cheap benefits of thing? So please, let us begin now!

Click on our website
W W W ( famalegoods ) c o m

W W W ( famalegoods ) c o m

Nancy Boulicault

Nov. 4, 2010, 8:10 a.m.

That’s exactly it - It is oily. BP thinks they can destroy the Gulf and then ‘support the arts’ to polish up their image.
Our project will make sure that the true Face of the Gulf will be present at the award in the form of portraits painted by residents and submitted to the award.
And since the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling has determined that BP is a person, then Gulf Coast residents can send portraits of BP.
It’s a great project that will hit BP where it lives - in London.
Have a look on Fundbreak.

Toxic Reverend

Nov. 4, 2010, 9:29 a.m.

The Video Bankers, BP Big Oil Don’t Want U to See
How money really works value tied 2 oil
Learn the truth of the matter and why we are at war
A few countries were about to change the pricing of
their oil from the US dollar to the Euro. Of which
would have crashed the US economy, then and there.

SO a Solid black canvas with a dead bird is what they are looking for ?

The corporate oligarchs have won; history appears to have ended; “free market financial capitalism” has enslaved the workers of the world for good it appear especially since the mass protests in left leaning or socialist and social democratic societies like Greece and France has not shaken the power elites; if they have failed what chance do the workers here in America have?

whats sad is there will be another well leak or line leak, we let our government run us instead us running our government. untill we take control over the pigs in washington and seize their butts and make the eal choices ours, we will face the worst mankind death exposures of the high government risks with our lives. they play around the world using the people as if we are the bait to see if something bites. we end up on the plates of many for dinner and wil be eaten by many things to come, we have only just seen some of what will be the worst is to come.

We live in interesting times.
In 19 more years we are planning on leaving earth to colonize mars, its baby steps but its a move towards a class 1 civilization, we sink or swim here. regardless these are interesting times….

Harry Hagelund

Nov. 4, 2010, 12:43 p.m.

Many if not all of the comments reported from Kovac, Trimmer, and Dye are far from what is really happening on the North Slope. The facts are stretched to the max, I was there when the fire occurred at GC1 and know the intimate details of the fire and subsequent events. Not close to what was stated in the article.  So you can imagine what I think about the folks that actually posted it…......

Nancy Boulicault

Nov. 4, 2010, 2:45 p.m.

Christine, a black canvas with an oily dead bird is not what BP is hoping for. But it might be what they get. Or maybe it will be a composite portrait of all the harm that BP has done or the face of a Gulf Coast resident whose life has been changed forever.
Whatever the portraits are that the Gulf Coast residents send to the BP Portrait Award, we hope they will make BP face what they have done.

i just read the oil pollution act of 1990 , if anyone has a lawyer or legal action filed against bp or feinberg they dont have to pay your claim now.

I was told just a minute ago 4:00 pm that Claim Under Detailed Compensability Review is just something that fienberg and the attorneys he is working for decided to put on the the site to let us believe that there was a final stage it is a lie there is no final stage it is still under review and we are not getting paid no tine soon

L i said that before but to many on here siad i did not know what i was talking about so i dont care what people say anymore they will find out on their own.

@ Darryl:You are right about a lot of things GCCF is nothing but a bunch of lies and so are the people at the call center they are feinberg puppets they will lie for him just tomkeep there dame jobs bunch of bastards. There is a lots of things that you said is the truth I been going through this since june.

Well i am an idiot. Remember last week when i said that my status said “paid”, well i got my check the next day. My dumbass filed for a one month emergency advance payment rather than the six month advance payment. No one ever asked me if that is what i meant to do when i went to the office in foley after i had filled my application out online. SO i called the 1800 number and the gentleman told me to fill out 5 supplemental claim forms and fax those over. I did that tuesday night ( the day i got my one month check) And now i am waiting to see how long this takes…I am so pissed at myself. I am losing my house, and had i of filed right i could have paid my debts off. Does anyone here know howlong supplemental payments are taking??

l yes i know me in april and aug 23 , yes this sucks, and noelle,  i feel for you too, i know this is way to long then bp was, i talked to gccf and they said if you were fired or quit you will not be paid emergency or final claim , thats from gccf , and all casino claims will be denied ,

The gccf office does not tell you that you do not have all the paperwork you need so u send it off and guess what we need more documents   they did not even give me a exibth a book   so i went back to the office and told them they were a bunch of id10ts and they said in the way they looked at me they did not care if we got paid or not.

Harry Hagelund

Nov. 22, 2010, 11:12 a.m.

I would like to retract part of my comment posted on Nov 4th. “So you can imagine what I think about the folks that actually posted it…......”, “Many if not all of the comments reported from Kovac, Trimmer, and Dye are far from what is really happening on the North Slope. The facts are stretched to the max”.
That was out of line considering the work they are doing to make our work place safer. My apologies gentleman.
I got caught up in defending my self during all the BP bashing that occurred during the Gulf fiasco.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Gulf Oil Spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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