Nearly 5,000 miles from the oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP and its culture of cost-cutting are contributing to another environmental mess in the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska's north shore, according to internal BP documents and more than a dozen employees interviewed over the past month.
After a serious oil spill last November and other mishaps, the BP employees fingered a long list of safety issues that have not been adequately addressed, making the Prudhoe Bay oilfield vulnerable to a devastating accident that potentially could rival the havoc in the Gulf.
"The condition of the [Prudhoe Bay] field is a lot worse and in my opinion a lot more dangerous," said Marc Kovac, who has worked for BP on Alaska's North Slope for more than three decades. "We still have hundreds of miles of rotting pipe ready to break that needs to be replaced. We are totally unprepared for a large spill."
Kovac, a mechanic and welder who is the steward of the United Steelworkers union local 4959, said a lot of employees share his feelings, but "don't want to risk their jobs for speaking out." Kovac said he was willing to take the risk because BP has been slow to deal with the Prudhoe Bay problems and that "many lives are at stake."
Some of the employees, speaking anonymously, said BP follows an "operate to failure" attitude.
Kovac said that means BP Alaska avoids spending money on "upkeep" and instead runs the equipment until it breaks down.
Typical of these problems, the employees said, was an oil spill that was discovered on Nov. 29, 2009, when a BP Alaska employee performing a routine check discovered oil pouring out from a two-foot long gash on the bottom of a 25-year-old pipeline at BP's Lisburne facility.
"The spill was from an 18-inch three-phase common line carrying a mixture of crude oil, produced water, and natural gas," according to an incident report from the Alaska Department of Environment and Conservation's (ADEC) Division of Spill and Response.
BP Alaska's "preliminary estimate for the total volume of oily material released is 45,828 gallons (1,091 barrels)," the report said.