House panel postpones BP oil leak hearing

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3 -- A House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee postponed its May 3 hearing on BP America Inc.'s management of Alaska North Slope crude oil gathering operations until May 16.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee said it took the action after discovering that BP withheld key documents related to anticorrosion cost-cutting at the field, which was partially shut down in August 2006 due to corrosion.

BP American Chairman Robert A. Malone requested the postponement in an Apr. 30 letter to subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and chief minority member Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). Malone stated that he had not received the documents, nor had the president of BP Alaska or the subcommittee.

"Second, some of the documents recently produced to the subcommittee raise concerns about previous spending decisions that cause me concern. We need time to determine how the concerns and frustrations expressed by workers were ultimately resolved," Malone continued.

He said he was troubled by the extent to which the workforce apparently was frustrated during 2004-05 and that he wants to eliminate such frustration "by creating a culture in which workers are confident their concerns will be heard and addressed."

He said this will take time, but BP is changing the way it manages its business and is creating a positive safety culture.

In an Apr. 2 response, John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who chairs the full committee, and Stupak told Malone that BP supplied information Apr. 17 after numerous requests for such material "going back nearly a year" and that the documents "reveal important internal decisions suggesting a severe cost-cutting atmosphere existed in [BP's] crude oil production operations at Prudhoe Bay."

Some documents discuss stopping the injection of a corrosion inhibiter to meet budget targets, while others suggest that other corrosion mitigation activities were reduced or postponed due to spending constraints, they told Malone.

"We now know that BP proceeded with cost-cutting measures that may have compromised pipeline safety while earning $22 billion in profits. What we don't know is why," Dingell said as he and Stupak announced the hearing's postponement.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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