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Safety

Congress To Probe Oil Field Shutdown

Hearing in September will examine BP's management at Prudhoe Bay

by Glenn Hess
August 21, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 34

In the months leading to the partial shutdown of the U.S.'s largest oil field, BP officials repeatedly assured Congress that a large leak and spill at Prudhoe Bay in March was an anomaly and that the firm's corrosion control program was an effective means to monitor and maintain pipelines and infrastructure on Alaska's North Slope.

"News that BP production of crude oil at Prudhoe Bay has been shut down due to excessive corrosion of its oil transit lines contradicts everything the committee has been told," House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) wrote to John Browne, BP's chief executive officer, in an Aug. 11 letter.

"The fact that BP's consistent assurances were not well-grounded is troubling and requires further examination," wrote Barton, who has scheduled a Sept. 7 hearing.

"Following on the heels of the BP refinery disaster that killed 15 people in Texas City, Texas, in 2005, and the BP oil spill in March, this latest incident once again calls into question BP's commitment to safety, reliability, and responsible stewardship of America's energy resources," Barton added.

The partial closure at Prudhoe Bay has more than halved the field's usual output, which accounts for about 8% of domestic oil production. A March spill from pipelines operated by BP was the largest ever on the North Slope. Subsequent testing ordered by the Department of Transportation revealed severe corrosion, which prompted the company to call for the shutdown.

BP says it is working to keep Congress informed. "The congressman [Barton] has questions, and we will cooperate fully in answering whatever questions he and [other] committee members may have," a company spokesman says.

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