Oily water spills into tundra from Alaskan BP line

MAINTAINED?:The leak occurred after new valves were installed in the line and it occurred in the same area that suffered a much larger spill in 2009

Reuters, ANCHORAGE, Alaska, and LONDON

Wed, Jul 20, 2011 - Page 7

BP reported another pipeline leak at its Alaskan oilfields, frustrating the oil company’s attempts to rebuild its reputation after last year’s disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP said on Monday that a pipeline at its 30,000 barrel-per-day Lisburne field, currently closed for maintenance, had ruptured during testing and spilled a mixture of methanol and oily water onto the tundra.

The London-based company has a history of oil spills at its Alaskan pipelines, including lines servicing Lisburne. The accidents have tarnished BP’s public image in the US, where about 40 percent of its assets are based.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the spill occurred on Saturday and amounted to 8,000 liters to 16,000 liters, affecting 460m2 of gravel pad and about 190m2 of wet and aquatic tundra.

Production from the entire Lisburne field remains shut off while the spill is addressed, Alaska officials said.

A BP spokesman said the cleanup was under way and the company would determine the cause “in due course.”

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees most US pipelines, said late on Monday that it does not have jurisdiction over the BP pipeline.

However, the US federal government may still have a role in the accident through the US Environmental Protection Agency because the pipeline spilled fluids into wetlands.

Immediate efforts are focused on containment and cleanup, said Tom DeRuyter, Alaska on-scene coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation. Cleanup must be completed before the pipe section is excavated, he added.

“BP has got a goal to have the investigation completed and the line repaired by fall freeze-up,” he said. “I do not anticipate the cleanup will take that long.”

The pipeline will also have to be dug up to allow for an investigation into why it failed, DeRuyter said.

Lisburne, managed as part of the Greater Prudhoe Bay Unit, has produced no oil since June 18, according to Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission records, suggesting maintenance work requiring a prolonged shutdown.

Dawn Patience, BP Alaska spokeswoman, said there is not yet an estimated time for the Lisburne field to be back in production.

“The planned maintenance is ongoing,” she said, adding that the leak happened when BP was testing recently installed valves in the piping.

The affected pipeline is a 20.3cm diameter line and the area that leaked runs underground beneath a road, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

BP’s blown out Macondo well caused the worst offshore oil spill in US history, spewing almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and putting BP’s future in the US at risk.

Previous problems including leaks from corroded pipelines in Alaska and the fatal Texas City refinery blast in 2005 had already earned the company a poor reputation for safety, something analysts say it needs to address if it is to continue to grow in North America.

In 2009, a crack in a flow line that serves Lisburne spilled about 175,000 liters of a mixture of oil and water on to the snowy tundra. BP in May agreed to pay a US$25 million civil penalty and spend US$60 million on enhanced safety measures, to settle a US federal probe of a pipeline oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006.

New York-listed shares in BP were down 0.2 percent, or US$0.09, to US$44.20 per share in late afternoon trading.