PHMSA pressures BP for prompt ANS lines repair

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, July 31 -- The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is increasing pressure on BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. to improve its operations on Alaska's North Slope after the BP PLC subsidiary failed to meet deadlines to repair and clean leaking Prudhoe Bay Operating Area pipelines.

Thomas J. Barrett, who on June 16 became the Department of Transportation regulatory agency's director, said PHMSA insists that BP begin draining 17,000 bbl of oil from three low-stress oil pipelines in the operating area by Aug. 22.

The agency also requires that solids that have collected in the pipelines be removed, with safe disposal, Barrett said in a July 27 letter to US Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chief minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

BP Alaska intends to meet the latest deadline, company spokesman Steve Rinehart told OGJ on July 31. "We plan to meet their current deadline and present them with a plan by Aug. 1," he said, "and begin draining it by Aug. 22."

PHMSA on July 20 ordered BP Alaska to provide specific information and plans for handling accumulated solids in the pipelines. The order followed BP's failure to meet earlier deadlines under a Mar. 15 Corrective Action Order (CAO) PHMSA issued after a leak was discovered Mar. 2.

About 6,000 bbl of crude oil, operating at 87 psi, are believed to have leaked from the pipeline as a result of corrosion at a low point of the system at a caribou crossing (OGJ, Mar. 27, 2006, Newsletter).

BP Alaska immediately took out of service the pipeline section that leaked, Rinehart said.

Reserving actions
"My priority is ensuring that BP addresses all safety risks on these lines, including resolving related engineering challenges, in a safe and expeditious manner," Barrett wrote Dingell in response to a June 15 letter from the lawmaker. "In the meantime, PHMSA is reserving all enforcement actions with respect to its Mar. 15 CAO."

Barrett and PHMSA officials met in July with BP Alaska, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., and Joint Pipeline Office officials and gained perspective on the engineering challenges BP faces but also came away with "significant concern about BP's progress in measuring, planning for, and addressing the sediment that had accumulated in its pipelines," Barrett said.

Barrett said he was disappointed with BP Alaska's lack of progress in addressing risks to Trans-Alaska Pipeline System operations and the subsidiary's failure to plan for and promptly invest in bypass solutions. He said he shared these observations with BP officials before PHMSA issued its July 20 amended order placing BP on notice that it intends to hold the company to additional integrity management requirements pending completion of smart pigging operations, which the Mar. 13 CAO ordered.

"We are reviewing the measures voluntarily implemented by BP and will incorporate those requirements, along with any necessary modifications or additions, into a further amendment to the CAO," Barrett said.

Company's responses
One issue the company is confronting is disposal of inner pipe scale.
BP Alaska has completed pigging on 9 of the 22 miles of operating oil transit lines at Prudhoe Bay, according to Rinehart. "We did the Lisburne line, about 6.2 miles, in June. We finished pigging about 3.8 miles of line in the Eastern Operating Area last week, but don't have the results back from the sensing pig," he said.

One issue the company is confronting is disposal of scale and sediment that loosens during cleaning and pigging operations. To prevent it from moving downstream, BP Alaska is building a bypass line to collect and isolate the debris for disposal.

"It will not go down the TAPS [Trans Alaska Pipeline System]. The rest of the pigging is awaiting the construction of this bypass line so we can create a route to send these solids to a collection point," Rinehart said. "We plan to have all the pigging done by the end of November."

On July 25, BP Chief Executive John Browne announced that BP would spend $1 billion over the next 4 years, in addition to the $6 billion already budgeted, to improve its US businesses' operational integrity.

The expenditure is in response to incidents during the last 18 months that include the Alaskan oil pipeline spill, last year's explosion at the Texas City, Tex., refinery, and recent investigations into BP's US propane trading activity, Browne said (OGJ Online, June 29, 2006).

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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