BP executives were under fire in Washington, D.C., this week for failing to prevent two oil leaks that occurred earlier this year in the largest oil field in the country. The company willfully ignored pipeline corrosion and harassed employees who voiced concern, Congressional representatives say.
The first leak occurred last March, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil onto the Prudhoe Bay’s western tundra. The second, in early August, forced the closure of half the oil field after further testing found significant corrosion in pipelines.
The nearly five hours of questioning on Thursday focused largely on BP’s failure to monitor the pipelines with a “smart pig,” a diagnostic device that detects corrosion. The eastern line had not been “pigged” since 1992, and the western line since 1998.
“Clearly in retrospect, pigging could have been a positive step we could have taken,” BP Exploration Alaska President Steve Marshall told the investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. You can check out his complete statement here [PDF].
Robert C. Woollam, former head of BP’s Alaskan pipeline corrosion monitoring unit, invoked his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination, perhaps because his lengthy title alone implies his role in the leakage.
Subcommittee members also questioned the executives about allegations that workers and auditors who had raised concerns about the integrity of the pipes had been systematically silenced.
BP, which has constructed a well-heeled campaign to market themselves as an environmentally-conscious company, seems to have subverted that expenditure fairly well in the past year, as news of their neglected pipelines has bubbled to the surface despite their best efforts to hide the problems.
What good will come of the hearings? Well, that remains unclear, but perhaps additional attention to the roughly 500 spills that occur each year in the Prudhoe Bay alone could be a start. Public chastisement of these officials continues next week with additional hearings.
In the meantime, votes on what BP actually stands for? Congressmen yesterday suggested “Bloated Profits” and “Bad Pipelines.” I’m going with “Brazen Pigs.”