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Petroleum News: BP audit: Corrosion job vacant for months

Need to develop succession in job group cited; size and qualification of pipeline-corrosion monitoring division also needs review

Brad Foss
Associated Press Business Writer

By the time a massive oil-pipeline spill was discovered in March on Alaska’s North Slope, the job of BP’s senior corrosion engineer had been left unfilled for more than a year, according to an internal company audit.

This vacancy, and others, hindered BP’s ability to maintain a “strategic view” of its corrosion prevention activities, the audit found. A BP spokesman said Sept. 8 that a replacement for the senior corrosion engineer has yet to be found.

BP Exploration Alaska Inc. also left vacant the top job in its pipeline-corrosion oversight division in Alaska for more than six months in 2005, according to the audit. That division, formally known as the Corrosion, Inspection and Chemicals Group, was headed until the end of 2004 by Richard C. Woollam, who on Sept. 7 refused to testify under oath before a House subcommittee.

Among the key recommendations of the audit team, led by BP’s director of engineering John Baxter, was “an urgent need” to “develop and implement a succession programme for key positions in the CIC organisation.”

And given the increased scrutiny on BP’s operations in Alaska following the March spill, the company also needs to examine “the size and professional qualification” of its pipeline-corrosion monitoring division.

Despite Woollam’s silence on Sept. 7, lawmakers blasted other executives of the London-based oil giant for pipeline maintenance lapses and sought explanations for what may have caused the March discharge of more than 200,000 gallons of oil in the Alaskan tundra.

In responding to lawmakers, Steve Marshall, the president of BP Exploration Alaska, said at one point during the hearing that Woollam’s “abrasive nature” may have intimidated workers from raising questions about pipeline safety and integrity. Marshall refused to make a direct link between Woollam’s behavior and what he admitted were “in hindsight” inadequate pipeline maintenance procedures on the North Slope.

Position not filled until July

Lost in that exchange with lawmakers, however, was the fact that after transferring Woollam to a non-supervisory job in Houston in January 2005, the company did not fill the vacancy he left until July.
The June audit said BP Exploration Alaska’s “operations integrity” position was also vacant, and it noted that the leader of its “maintenance and reliability team” was “fairly new” to the job.

“Such factors reduce the capacity of the teams to take a broader strategic view of the corrosion management programme,” the audit concluded.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said Sept. 8 that the company has been slow in filling the vacancies because staff has been consumed with responding to the March spill, extensive pipeline corrosion discovered in August and the subsequent federal investigations into what went wrong.

Dean said the company is “actively recruiting” and that it plans to “radically” increase the size of its corrosion prevention staff in Alaska. He said that since the June report the role of the senior corrosion manager, and other vacant jobs on the team, are being filled on an interim basis.

BP announced Sept. 7 that the company hired three outside corrosion experts to independently review the Alaska pipeline problems and to make recommendations for improving BP’s corrosion prevention policies.

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1 Comment on “Petroleum News: BP audit: Corrosion job vacant for months”

  1. #1 John Gallagher
    on Feb 10th, 2007 at 04:42

    I would like to join Shell as a corrosion engineer ,I have over 30 years experience , I have completed British Gas course ,and NACE course
    My current position is Contracts Manager Coatings and Linings with Anticorrosion Protective Systems Dubai for the past 13 years

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