BP Ordered to Court Over Alaska Pipeline

Yesterday, a federal judge in Alaska ordered beleaguered oil giant, BP, to appear in court in December over a petition by BP’s federal probation officer revoking BP’s criminal probation imposed after the 2006 Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill, said the Wall Street Journal. The petition was filed Wednesday.

Federal probation officer Mary Frances Barnes accuses BP of both criminal negligence and of violating a condition of its probation prior to a North Slope oil spill in November 2009, said the Journal. Barnes is calling for additional penalties citing BP’s ongoing neglect, even after it pleaded guilty over the 2006 Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill.

BP has been ordered by U.S. Judge John D. Roberts to appear in U.S. court in Anchorage, Alaska, December 20 at 9:30 a.m. local time, which is 1830 GMT, in response to the petition, said the Journal.

The most recent BP oil spill began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men on April 20. All attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the well on July 15. The well wasn’t declared officially dead until September. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico now ranks as the worst oil disaster in US history. A just-released report by a National Academy of Engineering panel suggests money worries overshadowed safety concerns in steps BP took prior to the history-making explosion and spill, said the Journal.

BP has been on probation for its part in the Alaskan oil spill since November 2007, at which time it pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, said the Journal. In that case, a federal court ordered BP to pay a $12 million fine and $12 million in other fees; the court also placed the company on three years probation, said the Journal. In that case, the court’s decision involved two oils spills in 2006 involving over 200,000 gallons that spilled due to corroded pipes, said the Journal.

A spill in August 2006 result in the partial shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest such field in the US and which BP operates for BP and other producers, said the Journal, noting that the shutdown drove a temporary price increase in US oil futures.

A probe was implemented last December by federal and state investigators following a BP pipeline burst that sent 45,828 gallons of crude oil and produced water on Prudhoe Bay’s snow-covered tundra, reported the Journal. That accident violated the Clean Water Act as well as BP’s plea agreement terms, said Barnes, wrote the Journal.

According to Barnes’ report, beginning in June 2009, although warning alarms indicated temperature problems for the pipeline, BP operators did not respond, investigate, or seek to resolve the cause of the alarm, said the Journal. The inaction, said Barnes, allowed an “ice plug or hydrate blockage” to develop in the pipeline in mid-November 2009, which was preventable had BP responded to the alarms, reported the Journal.

BP experienced a similar rupture in 2001. In that case it recommended it should relocate surface-mounted temperature sensors external to the heated modules and reset flow-line alarm priorities to “critical.” BP “failed to implement these preventative measures,” Barnes said, quoted the Journal.

Help filing claims and other legal assistance for the victims of oil spills and accidents is available at www.bigspill.com.

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