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Investigation shows BP Alaska facing abnormal number of accidents and leaks

23 October 2017

An investigation published on October 20 by Buzzfeed News revealed BP Alaska has suffered a number of safety incidents on the North Slope this year, some of which put workers at risk. The report claims that BP recorded 27 worker incidents in Alaska as of September 12 and managers were so concerned they stopped work completely in many business units over the first 12 days of October.

Prudhoe Bay - Image: BP
Prudhoe Bay - Image: BP

As part of the report, BuzzFeed obtained a recording of Jeff Kilfoyle, health and safety manager for BP Exploration Alaska, talking to workers in September.

“Obviously any gas release is not a good thing. But a gas release of that magnitude inside a structure with people is obviously a major concern to us within Alaska and within the business,” Kilfoyle said. “That’s not a place we want to be.”

Kilfoyle was talking about a previously unreported safety incident that happened on September 10. According to BuzzFeed, two workers were exposed to a gas leak inside a building at one of BP’s drill sites. The workers were not injured, but the situation could have led to a fatal explosion. This was one of five spills or leaks — known as Tier 1 events — that BP Alaska was responsible for this year, BuzzFeed reports.

BP operates Prudhoe Bay, the biggest oil field in Alaska.  All work was halted except operating the field, drilling wells and operations required to meet regulatory and safety standards.

In an email to the company workers, BP Alaska President Janet Weiss said, “I am deeply concerned that with these trends, we are not in a stable state.”

Cathy Foerster, who sits on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the incidents described in the report are troubling, but she also thinks BP is taking the right steps to address the situation.

“Of course it’s concerning and you can tell Janet [Weiss] is concerned,” Foerster said. “When you see a trend of either unsafe or un-environmentally sensitive events, then you definitely need to step back and take a time out, take a look at what you’re doing and assess what you need to change. And that’s what BP did.”

Foerster did dispute Buzzfeed’s implication that two of the incidents it described were caused by human error. Foerster said her agency is investigating those incidents and believes they were mechanical failures.

Foerster said because her agency only has jurisdiction over two of the incidents, she couldn’t comment on whether the age of BP’s facilities was a factor.

In response to the report, BP sent out a statement claiming that safety and protecting the environment are the company’s top priorities, and its pipeline assurance program performs close to 300,000 inspections each year.

“BP reports all incidents in accordance with state and federal laws, including two natural gas releases earlier this year at a Prudhoe Bay drill site and Flow Station 3,” spokeswoman Dawn Patience said in the written statement. “While the goal is to have no releases, both of these incidents occurred during planned maintenance and were halted quickly, and neither resulted in injury to workers or impact to the surrounding environment.”

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