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Petroleum News: Former federal judge to investigate maintenance allegations against BP

Vol. 12, No. 7  Week of February 18, 2007

BP PLC is looking into allegations by a longtime oil industry watchdog, including a claim that a company employee substituted water for more expensive chemical agents used to prevent corrosion in its Prudhoe Bay pipelines.

The company ombudsman, retired federal judge Stanley Sporkin, said Feb. 7 he has assembled a team of engineers and attorneys to investigate the allegations raised against BP by longtime industry critic Chuck Hamel.

“We’re going to do a very solid investigation, I can assure you that,” Sporkin said from his office in Washington, D.C. “I don’t engage in witch hunts. One of my most important priorities is to be absolutely fair to everyone.”

Hamel said the evidence for the allegations comes from an oil field employee, whom he would not name. Hamel said he passed along “hard evidence” of the substitutions to an investigator with the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle.

The agency is conducting a criminal investigation into BP’s management practices at Prudhoe Bay and could not comment on the information from Hamel.

“During an ongoing criminal investigation, there’s not a lot we can say,” EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre said.

BP manages the oil field, North America’s largest, on behalf of its fellow owners, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

London-based BP created the ombudsman position in September, a month after a leak in poorly maintained pipelines led to the partial shutdown of production at Prudhoe Bay. The shutdown occurred several months after a corroded transit line resulted in the biggest spill in the history of the field. As much as 267,000 gallons of crude leaked.

The ombudsman independently investigates employee and public complaints regarding BP and shares the results with managers.

“Whenever issues are raised by employees or folks like Mr. Hamel, we always look into them,” said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo. “We take these issues very seriously.”

Sporkin said it is up to the company to decide whether to publicize the results of the investigation.

Hamel is a former shipping broker from Virginia who frequently publicizes information from whistleblowing employees in Alaska’s oil industry.

—The Associated Press

Petroleum News: Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada’s oil and gas industry

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