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BP oil spill may lead to criminal charges

 
 
Reply Wed 30 Nov, 2011 10:17 am
Prosecutors say BP spill may lead to criminal charges

HEARING: Prosecutors say '09 blowout violated the oil giant's probation from larger spill in '07.
By LISA DEMER - Anchorage Daily News
November 29th, 2011

Two years ago, a BP pipeline carrying a mix of oil, water and natural gas blew open on the North Slope, spilling what the oil company estimated was 13,500 gallons of crude.

Now that spill is being dissected in federal court to determine whether the circumstances leading up to it amount to criminal behavior by BP.

When the spill was discovered in November 2009, BP was on criminal probation for a misdemeanor conviction from an earlier, much bigger spill and under order not to commit any new environmental crimes. Federal prosecutors say BP violated its probation by failing to act on signs of trouble in a pipeline leading to its Lisburne Production Center, a pipeline that then froze and ruptured.

Prosecutors say BP is a serial environmental offender and want U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline to revoke its probation from the 2007 misdemeanor conviction. If he does so, BP could be sentenced anew on the 2007 case and be hit with additional fines and another period of probation.

BP argues that it had no way to foresee the rupture of a pipeline that had performed well for decades and that what happened was unfortunate but not criminal. BP wants its probation, which was extended after the 2009 spill, to end.

A mini-trial before Beistline started Tuesday with a full day of testimony by Matt Goers, the Anchorage-based agent in charge for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's criminal division. A couple of dozen spectators sat in, including state environmental lawyers, BP executives and EPA officials.

COLD TEMPERATURE ALARMS

At its heart, the case concerns whether BP was negligent in its monitoring of the pipeline that moved oil, gas and water from wells to the Lisburne Production Center, where the substances were separated.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward walked Goers through the events.

The troubles began around May 25, 2009, when BP's investigation later determined the flow through the pipeline either slowed or stopped altogether, Goers testified.

Cold temperature alarms that began going off in early June weren't followed up on even though those signals were the only indication that oil may have stopped flowing, he said.

The line at issue was paired with a second, bigger line. Oil, gas and water from nearby wells could travel along either one. For six months, with the expected amount of oil still coming through the bigger, companion pipeline, BP says no one noticed nothing was flowing through the smaller, 18-inch-diameter pipeline.

A similar rupture that occurred in 2001 with a different, frozen pipeline should have led to improvements, but BP didn't enact the lessons learned from 2001 at Lisburne, according to BP's own investigative report on the 2009 spill, Goers testified.

For instance, BP never set up a system to monitor whether oil was flowing through each line separately, he said.

The smaller Lisburne line was fitted with a temperature sensor that would trigger alarms if it got below 70 degrees, but that section of pipe was inside the heated processing center so didn't reflect what was actually going on, Goers testified. The sensor should have been placed outside the heated module, BP's analysis found, he said.

When the Lisburne alarm went off, it was considered informational but should have been given the highest priority, critical, Goers said. Instead, it was ranked second lowest out of BP's four priority levels.

The cold temperature alarm went off repeatedly and for long stretches starting June 5, 2009, Goers said. With the click of a mouse, BP operators could turn off the blinking signal on the monitor but the alarm stayed on in the background until the pipeline got warm enough. While it wasn't unusual for an alarm to go off, it was highly irregular for one to stay on for weeks or months, Goers said.

"An operator read this, clicked the acknowledgement button, and said 'I'm done,'" Goers said.

Was he able to find anyone who took action? Steward asked

No, Goers answered

In fact, BP's investigation found that its failure to recognize and respond to the alarms was a root cause for the eventual rupture, he said.

A THAW PLAN

When BP lawyer Jeff Feldman got his turn to ask the questions, he asked Goers whether he remembered BP employees telling him they would definitely act on a cold temperature alarm.

"And that's what they did," Feldman said.

But Goers said they only clicked on the screen acknowledging the alarm.

Wasn't it true that no one could have known that oil wasn't flowing through the pipeline back in 2009? Feldman asked.

No, Goers said. The temperature alarms indicated a problem.

But weren't there about the same number of cold temperature alarms the year before, in 2008? Feldman asked. The pipe didn't rupture then. And BP considered the Lisburne pipeline at low risk of freezing, because it was only three miles long and the oil was hot going in, he noted.

BP usually heated up the oil before sending it down the pipeline, Goers testified. The heater for the Lisburne line, however, had been sent away for a major overhaul, and BP didn't put in place the recommended temporary heater, Goers said. A BP employee indicated there wasn't enough money for that, he said.

On Nov. 14, 2009, someone checking into another issue at Lisburne happened to test the temperature of the line and found that it was cold, Goers said.

That's the first BP knew the oil wasn't flowing, he said. Operators immediately tested the pressure and determined it was plugged in two spots. The line was frozen, and BP started work on a plan for thawing it. A draft plan wasn't ready until Nov. 22 and wasn't presented to a BP area manager until Nov. 26. The manager said BP needed a risk assessment before moving on the plan.

"Before they could risk assess it, the line ruptured," Goers said.

On Nov. 29, 2009, a BP worker found the spill. Excess pressure from expanding ice had ripped a 2-foot-hole in the pipe. Slushy oil mounded under the pipeline and spewed over the tundra.

The hearing continues today. It is expected to take all week.

Read more: http://www.adn.com/2011/11/29/2194844/bp-spill-may-be-a-criminal-violation.html#ixzz1fCpgjqrC
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BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Dec, 2011 10:36 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
BP manager's email listing safety concerns debated at spill trial
Former employee critical of BP's plant maintenance.
By LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News
December 2nd, 2011

Two months after one of the biggest oil spills ever on the North Slope, a BP operator sent an email to managers with a long list of mechanical, management and staffing issues at the production center for the Lisburne oil field, home to the pipeline that ruptured.

BP's former compliance officer testified Thursday in U.S. District Court about his inquiry into those concerns -- and his conclusion in April 2010 that "BP management lacks the capability to maintain the integrity of the North Slope production facilities."

The circumstances surrounding the pipeline that froze and then blew open under pressure in November 2009 are the focus of an ongoing federal court proceeding in Anchorage. At the time of the spill, BP was on probation for a 2007 criminal misdemeanor conviction stemming from an earlier, much bigger spill at Prudhoe Bay.

Federal prosecutors argue that BP's failure to prevent the 2009 spill of 13,500 gallons of crude amounts to another instance of criminal behavior and is grounds for revoking the corporation's probation. If U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline agrees, he could resentence BP on the original case and order new fines and an additional term of probation.

But BP argues that it couldn't have predicted the spill and that it responded quickly, cleaned up the mess, and is addressing maintenance and staffing issues on the North Slope, where the oil field infrastructure is aging and production is declining.

Philip Dziubinski, who started in operations, served four years as compliance and ethics leader for BP in Alaska and worked for the company or affiliates about 27 years in all. He managed employee concerns about the safety and integrity of operations as well as ethical breaches.

He was making $181,000 a year when he learned in March 2010 that he was being laid off. The notice came just days after he told his bosses on the executive team about the operator's concerns at Lisburne. BP says he was let go as part of a national restructuring eliminating a number of middle managers.

A BP paralegal escorting government inspectors through the Lisburne Production Center spotted a cut-and-paste version of the email in the copy room, and wanted to make sure higher-ups were aware, according to BP attorney Jeff Feldman. The employee gave it to Brad McKim, BP's managing attorney, who gave it to Dziubinski on March 2, 2010, and asked him to check out the concerns with field managers, Dziubinski said, under questioning by assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward.

Field managers already were working on the issues, BP says. The operator who wrote it, Tony Jackson, had emailed it Jan. 31, 2010, to Mikal Hauge, a BP manager for the North Slope whose area includes Lisburne, along with others, according to BP.

The Lisburne center is where oil, natural gas and water from a number of wells are separated. The pipeline that ruptured went there.

'A BROKEN PLANT'

The document that Dziubinski was handed listed 14 issues with specific pieces of equipment, along with broader management and staffing concerns.

"With minimum manning in maintenance and operations we are basically running a broken plant with too few people to address the problems in a timely and safe manner," the operator wrote.

Equipment was in disrepair or absent and there weren't backups. For instance, a key air compressor wasn't working, and a portable one wasn't reliable, risking shutdown of the entire processing plant, Dziubinski testified, reading from the operator's document.

Some of the issues related directly to safety. Dziubinski testified that he was particularly concerned about ladders that lacked protective cages -- a problem that had been going on for two years -- and faulty louvers, which BP said are critical vent-like devices that can close off airways in case of fire.

By then, Dziubinski was well- familiar with long-simmering issues related to maintenance and staffing. Congressional inquiries, consultant reports, internal reviews and a report by the BP ombudsman had examined the troubles in depth. Dziubinski said his office in 2007 took a second look at a 2001 Operational Review Team report into hundreds of worker concerns about preventative maintenance, emergency shutdowns and faulty equipment. He testified that many of the issues had been addressed but that training, staffing and overall maintenance remained an issue.

As to Lisburne, Dziubinski testified that he spoke with Hauge and found out many of the issues specific to that plant were being addressed.

In fact, by the end of April 2010, BP had already resolved half of the 14 items, BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said during a break in the hearing. It was hiring new front-line employees too. The only mechanical issue remaining concerns the louvers, which require complicated engineering, Rinehart said.

Still, in the spring of 2010, Dziubinski was concerned that problems once again had built to a critical mass, and that it took a distressed employee to call attention to the situation, according to his testimony.

He asked Hauge whether the problems were systemic. Hauge told him they were, Dziubinski said. The manager told him that the plant overall was in poor condition because of "budget and resource restraints," Dziubinski testified.

"I was a bit stunned," he said.

If so many problems could show up at Lisburne in one fell swoop, he said, they could materialize somewhere else just as well.

"I just saw this as a continuation of a pattern of behavior by BP," he testified.

BP'S ANGLE

Feldman, the BP attorney, challenged Dziubinski on whether there was any connection between the ruptured pipeline and the maintenance and staffing issues at Lisburne.

Did any of the concerns deal with temperature alarms? Feldman asked. Prosecutors contend that when sensors on the pipe at issue set off cold temperature alarms, operators simply clicked the acknowledgement button rather than troubleshoot the matter.

No, Dziubinski answered.

Did any relate to the sensors?

No.

What about the pipeline itself? Feldman asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Dziubinski said.

Feldman also tried to discredit Dziubinski. After he was told he was being laid off, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggesting he had been retaliated against for raising safety concerns about excessive overtime on the North Slope, and a separate one with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserting he had been let go because of his age, 59 at the time. The matter also went before the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights.

Weren't all his claims denied? Feldman said.

Yes, Dziubinski said.

After BP eliminated his position, the BP chief of staff for Alaska -- his boss -- first assumed his duties. But BP has since added the position back in, spokesman Rinehart said.

Earlier in the hearing, Dziubinski testified that he had received a good performance review and $100,000 in bonuses just a few months before he was told he was losing his job.

The case continues today and will last into next week.

Read more: http://www.adn.com/2011/12/01/2198864/email-citing-concerns-debated.html#ixzz1fObH0mUj
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BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Dec, 2011 12:33 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
BP worker found 'cold' pipe on Slope weeks before it blew
COURT: Company defends itself against accusations of criminal behavior in spill.
By LISA DEMER - Anchorage Daily News
Published: December 5th,

The BP lead operator who found signs of a frozen pipeline on Alaska's North Slope back in November 2009 testified in federal court Monday that he stumbled on the problem accidentally when he was checking other equipment with a hand-held laser device no bigger than a calculator.

As a lead operator, Tony Jackson oversees daily operations at the Lisburne Production Center, where oil is separated from the water and natural gas produced from wells. He now also is a witness for BP as the oil company defends itself in Anchorage against government accusations that the circumstances surrounding a 2009 spill from that frozen pipeline amount to criminal behavior.

On the stand Monday in U.S. District Court, Jackson said he was working the night shift on Nov. 14, 2009, when he discovered that the pipe inside the heated facility was just 55 degrees, much colder than it should have been.

He and others began to troubleshoot. A crude oil heater for that pipeline was being repaired. BP soon determined that oil had stopped flowing and that the pipeline was frozen. Operators and managers took the issue seriously, Jackson testified. The plan was to try to thaw the pipeline.

No one realized just how big the problem was, according to his testimony.

"Rupturing was not on our radar at the time," Jackson said. Another BP pipeline that froze thawed on its own without rupturing, he said.

Two weeks after Jackson found the cold pipe at Lisburne, before BP could execute its thaw plan, the pipeline did rupture, spilling an estimated 13,500 gallons of crude on the snow and tundra. Excess pressure from expanding ice blew a 2-foot-hole in the metal wall of the pipe.

SLUGGING OF GAS

BP has been on criminal probation since 2007 for an earlier, much bigger spill. Federal prosecutors say that BP was negligent and failed to properly respond to signs of trouble with the Lisburne pipeline. They want U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline to revoke BP's probation and resentence the company with an additional period of probation and new fines. BP argues that the line had worked properly for almost 25 years and that it couldn't have foreseen pressure building to the point of blowing it open. The spill was thoroughly cleaned up, BP says.

For months before the spill, sensors on the pipeline had been triggering cold temperature alarms, which BP's own investigation says was an indirect sign that the flow of oil may have stopped due to freezing.

But Jackson testified that operators didn't use the cold alarms as a measure of flow. Rather those alarms may signal "slugging" of natural gas, he said. Normally, oil, water and gas move through the pipeline as a blend to be separated at the plant. But sometimes a big slug of one comes through, and if it's gas, plant operators need to let production operators know so they can make adjustments, Jackson said. Natural gas is colder than oil or water.

Operators didn't realize oil had stopped flowing because the 18-inch line that ruptured was paired with a second, bigger line, and oil from a number of wells could travel down either one, other witnesses have said.

'CHASING OUR TAILS'

A couple of months after the spill, Jackson emailed his boss and two other higher-ups a list of serious concerns about staffing, management and equipment issues at the Lisburne Production Center, including 14 specific equipment problems.

One of the most pressing problems was a need for a new air compressor, necessary for running some of the controls. If a backup compressor failed, the entire plant would be shut down and BP would be producing less oil.

"It's a constant battle," Jackson said. "I kind of want stuff yesterday."

Managers told him he did the right thing by bringing his concerns forward, he said. He suffered no negative consequences, and remains a lead operator for BP. He didn't go through BP's formal "employee concerns" program but got fast results, including a new air compressor out of Deadhorse, he testified.

BP lawyer Jeff Feldman asked him whether any of the concerns he brought up in early 2010 related to the pipeline rupture in 2009.

No, he said.

But during cross examination, assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward asked whether some of the equipment issues had been going on for more than a month.

They had, he said.

"We were chasing our tails at that time, yes," Jackson said.

Prosecutors have framed part of their case around Jackson's list of concerns, pointing to it as evidence of an atmosphere of neglect.

Also on Monday, Feldman called BP's director of pipeline assurance, Glen Pomeroy, to the stand. Pomeroy said that BP operates 5,000 different pipelines spanning 1,600 miles on the North Slope.

One issue is that BP didn't directly monitor the Lisburne line for whether oil was flowing through it.

That's a technological challenge for pipelines carrying a mix of oil, gas and water, Pomeroy testified.

How many BP lines like that are fitted with flow meters? Feldman asked.

None, Pomeroy answered.

He will continue on the stand today. The probation hearing began Nov. 29 and is moving slower than expected. If both sides can't wrap up by Wednesday, the proceeding may be put on hold for several weeks or into next year due to other commitments by the judge and the attorneys.

Read more: http://www.adn.com/2011/12/05/2204306/bp-worker-found-cold-pipe-weeks.html#ixzz1fmT6jaek
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