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International Herald Tribune: Alaska state Labor department to review safety concerns about BP Prudhoe Bay facility

The Associated Press
Published: July 5, 2007

JUNEAU, Alaska: State labor department officials on Thursday said they are reviewing congressional concerns about alleged safety risks at a natural gas processing facility operated by BP PLC in Prudhoe Bay.

Among the allegations is that the facility is holding nearly double its safe capacity, putting workers’ lives at risk.

State officials have said the London-based company plans to back up claims they made to Alaska Occupational Safety and Health officials that there is no imminent danger to the plant’s work force or any other area workers. It was not immediately known when these comments were made.

“Our policy is to cooperate fully,” said BP spokesman Steve Rinehart. “If the labor department wants information, we’ll provide that to them.”

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development responded Thursday to a fax sent last week by U.S. Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, outlining several concerns about workplace safety.

In his letter, Miller said his concerns stemmed from allegations brought by “employee representatives.”

Alaska Labor Commissioner Click Bishop was not available for comment Thursday, nor did he address any specific concerns raised by Miller in the department’s response.

But in the written statement, Bishop offered a sweeping comment saying, the department, “is committed to workplace safety and health for all workers across Alaska — it is our highest priority.”

According to Miller’s letter, the facility and compressor plant were designed to contain no more than 5 billion cubic feet of compressed gas, but inventories have reached 9.2 billion cubic feet, “potentially putting 1,000 lives at risk in the event of a major catastrophe.”

But Rinehart said no more than 50 people work at those facilities, which sit in a vastly open section of the Prudhoe Bay operations.

Miller said in his letter to the state that BP and federal workforce agencies also were notified of his concerns.

“We are going to answer in full detail to the congressman and do it promptly,” Rinehart said. “I can’t tell you when we will have an answer, but we don’t intend on keeping the congressman waiting long.”

Miller is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which in March held a hearing on the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City plant that killed 15 people and injured 170.

More than 200,000 gallons of oil leaked at Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay field in March 2006 due to corrosion. Five months later, after another leak, BP partially shut down the largest U.S. oil field, which it operates on behalf of itself, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

BP has pledged to replace 16 miles (26 kilometers) of corroded pipeline by the end of next year at a cost of about $250 million (€183.28 million).

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