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Financial Times: BP closes 12 Alaskan oil wells

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: July 18 2006 22:01 | Last updated: July 18 2006 22:01

BP’s troubles in the US intensified when the company shut 12 Alaskan oil wells on Tuesday after whistleblowers said some 50 had been leaking.

Robert Malone, president of BP America, said it would close the wells after workers at its Prudhoe Bay oil field told the Financial Times about the leaks. Mr Malone said the wells would be shut “even though we have no reason to believe . . . the continued operation of these wells poses a risk to workers or the environment’’.

A veteran BP employee said many of the 50 wells leaked only a packing material that does not threaten workers or the environment. But he said some had allowed gas and hydrocarbon fluids to surface. He and a contract worker said regulators allowed them to continue in that state for months. “These are a hazard to workers and damage the environment,’’ said the BP employee.

The claims renew worker fears that Alaska regulators are too beholden to BP, as one of the state’s biggest employers, to regulate its operations.

John Norman, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said: “We would never allow anything to be operable if there was fluid from a producing well coming to surface.’’

Yet Chuck Hamel, an advocate for BP workers, provided the FT with a copy of the report that the company sent daily to regulators. The documents spoke of wells being “waivered’’ to operate in spite of leaks. Mr Hamel said: “We appreciate Bob Malone’s good sense to shut in those leaking wells that pose the most danger to the work force.’’

When presented with the allegations on Friday, BP said it had 57 wells with a problem. Of those, 37 had been shut down.

By Monday, BP said eight of the remaining 20 had been “shut in”. Mr Malone then ordered the final 12 shut.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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