Feds to Propose Oversight of Low-Stress Pipelines


The Transportation Department's Pipeline Safety Administration will propose new regulations within the next two weeks governing low-stress pipelines in rural areas, such as BP's Prudhoe Bay transit lines that were shut down last week due to widespread corrosion.

PSA head Tom Barrett said the proposal would cover about 1,600 miles of the 5,000 miles of low-pressure pipelines in the United States (Reuters/Los Angeles Times).

"We're moving to bring them under more federal oversight," he said. "If they had maintained the lines properly, we would not be in this situation."

Prudhoe Bay's pipelines spilled 201,000 gallons of petroleum onto frozen tundra in March, in the largest North Slope oil spill ever. BP shut the field down Aug. 6 when it discovered another, smaller leak.

DOT has instituted emergency controls, including daily surveys of all BP's low-pressure lines at Prudhoe Bay and ultrasonic testing. The department has ordered BP to strip insulation from its still-operational western line and provide a plan within 30 days to replace or restore the field's eastern side.

PSA officials said the new rules could come within days and would be open for public comment and revision (Sheila McNulty, Financial Times [subscription required], Aug. 17).

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) blasted BP yesterday for its false assurances of safety. "They sold us the fact their processes would perform. And they didn't," he said, speaking in Anchorage. "I am disturbed not only by the fact that over the years, when I've taken members of Congress up there -- particularly senators and people from the administration -- we've been briefed that this is the safest area in the world, and how it's been maintained, and how they've got special procedures to check for corrosion and erosion and any sludge inside the pipeline.

"As a matter of fact, it just wasn't done. And somehow or other, the regime for management failed to recognize it hadn't been done."

Stevens said he was incensed when he learned that corrosion had eaten away 81 percent of the steel shell of parts of a major transit line. "We should've known every time there was 1 percent gone," he said. BP's normal policy is to replace pipe once corrosion has reached 60 percent, he said.

Stevens said he thought the partial shutdown was needed. "I gotta tell you, I think it was necessary," he said. "Two spills, and something's causing it. Shut it down till we can examine it and find out we can operate it without great risk.

"BP's got a big problem -- let's face it," he continued. "They've got a grand jury that's subpoenaed a portion of that pipe. They've got criminal potential against their company and some of the members of it.

"Bacteria only exist in these pipelines in water. It's not there in oil, it's not there in gas, it has to be in water," Stevens said. "The oil that went in, that should be of the quality it doesn't have any water" (Richard Mauer, Anchorage Daily News).

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