PHMSA orders BP to conduct further ANS inspections

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 11 -- The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued new orders to BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. on Aug. 10, requiring additional rigorous inspections of the company's entire Alaskan North Slope crude pipeline network and outlining safety criteria that the BP PLC division must meet before it can restart its downed line there.

BP Alaska must conduct four daily surveys of all its low-pressure lines in the North Slope, including the eastern operating line, where the company this week halted operations due to a leak and extensive pipeline corrosion, PHMSA Administrator Thomas J. Barrett said. The company will be required to use special heat-seeking infrared equipment to spot leaks and conduct visual walking, driving, or flying surveys up and down the entire 22-mile length of the system, he added.

The Department of Transportation agency's order also directs BP to strip the insulation from its western operating line at the Prudhoe Bay field, which may continue to move oil, and conduct an ultrasonic test to obtain a complete picture of the line's conditions, Barrett said.

It also requires BP to conduct a series of diagnostic tests to ensure the eastern operating line has been fully inspected and that any defects are repaired to strict federal standards prior to considering any return of service to the eastern line. In addition, the order directs BP to provide PHMSA its plans to replace or restore the eastern line within 30 days.

"Our first priority is the continued safe operation and reliability of all BP lines located on the North Slope," Barrett said. "These new orders will help ensure BP's current operations remain safe as we work to restore full service along these lines as quickly and safely as possible."

BP's response
Steve Marshall, president of BP Alaska, confirmed the company had received the latest PHMSA order and would fully comply with it. "We are analyzing the [order] and determining the actions and resources required to continue use of oil transit lines on the western half of the field," he said.

Marshall said that BP Alaska was pleased that PHMSA said it was not aware of any data concerning the condition of pipe in the western operating area, which would require an immediate shutdown there. He said that the company expects to reach a decision whether it can continue safely operating the western portion of the system by early next week.

"Our priorities moving forward remain to assure the safety and integrity of our operating infrastructure, minimize impact on the environment, continue the cooperative working relationship with the relevant agencies, and restore production as soon as it is safely possible," Marshall said.

PHMSA's latest order is the third directive this year from the federal pipeline safety office requiring stepped up inspections of BP's Prudhoe Bay pipelines.

The original order was a result of a pipeline failure along the field's western line on Mar. 2, which resulted in about 5,000 bbl of crude being spilled. It was amended on July 20 with additional requirements.

Inspectors from the agency have been at Prudhoe Bay since March to review pipeline operations, meet with federal and state officials, and ensure completion of the corrective actions required by the agency's orders, Barrett said.

PHMSA will continue to coordinate its actions with the federal-state Joint Pipeline Office and with numerous federal and state agencies that oversee the safety on Alaska's North Slope, he indicated.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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