Journalism in the Public Interest

BP Probation Officer Asks Judge to Revoke Probation, Citing ‘Criminal Negligence’


BP's operations on the North Slope of Alaska. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

A federal probation officer for BP filed a petition on Wednesday asking a judge in Alaska to revoke the company’s probation because of criminally negligent conduct, the Anchorage Daily News reported. If the judge agrees, BP could face more fines, extended probation, or increased requirements for its pipelines. (Read the petition.)

The court filing comes less than two weeks before probation for BP’s 2006 oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope was set to end. It alleges that the company acted negligently in the run-up to yet another spill from BP’s Alaska pipelines in 2009. Here’s what we have reported about that spill:

Then, in November 2009, ice built up in a 25-year-old pipeline to the Alaska division’s Lisburne Production Center—a facility so large that it dominates the horizon at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The frozen line eventually split open, dumping nearly 46,000 gallons of crude oil, toxic wastewater and natural gas onto the frozen ground. BP had been warned by workers months before the spill that numerous problems at Lisburne were increasing the risk of such an accident.

In the settlement agreement BP reached with the government after a 212,000-gallon spill in 2006, BP plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, paid a $20 million fine, and agreed to three years of probation. (This settlement was criticized by former EPA criminal investigator Scott West, who told ProPublica that prosecutors should have sought felony charges against top officials.)

To get off probation, BP needed to make progress in replacing its corroded pipelines and improve its system for preventing and detecting spills.

But according to U.S. probation officer Mary Frances Barnes, the company’s 2009 spill—another Clean Water Act violation—was a violation of the terms of its probation. She also argued that the 2009 spill could have been prevented, but BP ignored early warnings.:

BPXA's conduct constitutes negligence under the meaning of the federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1319(c)(l), 1311; and/or gross negligence under the meaning of Alaska Statute 11.81.900(a)(4). This is based on: (1) BPXA's failure to follow its own preventative measures following the 2001 line rupture and the relevance of these measures in potentially preventing the 2009 line rupture and (2) BPXA's lack of response to consistent low temperature alarm warnings during the summer and fall of 2009 when corrective actions could have been implemented to prevent the pipeline failure and discharge of oil to a water of the United States and/or prevent the pollution of Alaska lands.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart disputed the probation officer’s findings and told the Anchorage Daily News that the company has "made measurable improvements in safety and reliability” and spent $500 million on replacing corroded transit pipelines.

We reported earlier this month, however, that BP’s internal maintenance reports show that the company’s Alaska pipelines continue to be plagued by severe corrosion. According to a document dated October 1, at least 148 pipelines earned an “F-rank” for corrosion. Rinehart told ProPublica that while the F-rankings were serious, pipelines receiving these rankings “can stay that way for some period of time as long as the situation is stabilized.”

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The governments plea agreement with BP for the 2006 spill was an absolute disgrace.  Anyone with half a brain would not have left it so open ended.  If you ask ten people what “significant progress” means, chances are you will get 10 different answers.  Does significant progress mean dollar value of upgrades, or quantity of pipe replaced, or some combination of the two?  Why not just put it in black and white….“All pipes with an F rank are to be replaced”.  Would that have been so difficult? The governement needs to grow a spine.

This episode is just another in a long line of reckless behaviors on the part of BP. They have no inducement (least of all, from the federal government, and most particularly the Bush Administration) to behave responsibly. Companies don’t act altruistically. It is profit alone which guides their behavior. BPS needs a several BILLION dollar fine in order to “come to Jesus.” A few execs on mahogany row should do a little time in the hoosegow, as well.

Mr. Burns- Your idea of fining folks like BP isn’t the answer because even several billion won’t make a difference. Big business has purchased this government on every level, Oil, Banking, Medicine. These people do what they want and when they get caught after taking down big bonuses, they pay the fines with stockholder’s money. Prison is the only answer. The politicians and judges, appointed and elected have taken this country back 100 years to age of Robber Barons. The US Supreme Court is the real issue. It will now take a lifetime to restore order. The last yealot that Bush put on the court displayed his complete lack of understanding when he shook his head during Obama’s State of the Union speech last January. When unintelligent people that are money hungry get to positions of power, this is what we can expect.


Nov. 22, 2010, 10:16 a.m.


Alvin D Hofer

Nov. 24, 2010, 8:11 p.m.

Reversing the application of the 14th amendment to grant legal personhood to corporations is, in my opinion, the only way to restore our republic.

It won’t make any real difference but I guess trying counts for something.

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