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Probe into BP Alaska leak

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Probe into BP Alaska leak

By Sheila McNulty in Houston

Published: June 23 2008 02:53 | Last updated: June 23 2008 02:53

US regulators are investigating a leak at Prudhoe Bay as BP was replacing corroded pipes almost two years after their discovery forced the temporary closure of North America’s largest oilfield.

BP agreed to replace 22 miles of corroded pipelines in August 2006 after the largest-ever spill at the field which led the US department of transportation to order high-tech tests that found widespread corrosion.

After granting several extensions, the department set the year end as the final deadline for BP to replace the corroded pipelines. This past week, BP suffered a leak during hydro-tests on three miles of newly installed pipe, said Chuck Hamel, an advocate for BP workers in Alaska. Regulators are investigating possible faulty welds for the leak.

That BP continues to face engineering difficulties at Prudhoe Bay is not only embarrassing to Tony Hayward, the chief executive, but comes as big oil companies are trying to convince politicians the US can safely open environmentally protected areas to development.

John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, has called for the lifting of a federal moratorium on offshore drilling in US waters to reduce dependence on foreign sources. The plan, also endorsed by George W. Bush, the US president, has been criticised by Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate.

BP’s setbacks at Prudhoe Bay come as environmentalists are seeking to keep protected areas in Alaska and Florida off limits to oil and gas companies. Royal Dutch Shell delayed drilling in offshore Alaska for another year owing to a court challenge by environmentalists who fear risks to whales and other marine animals.

Mr Hamel wrote on Saturday to Thomas Barrett, deputy secretary of the department, reporting the failure in testing the new pipeline and said he was informed they are investigating.

BP said the leak was of fresh water, with a minute concentration of corrosion inhibitor, at a pressure higher than the pipeline will see in service.

“The new pipeline is being tested to the highest standards before going into service,’’ it said, adding it did not affect BP’s schedule to have a new pipeline in service by the end of the year.

EDITOR’S CHOICE

BP’s biggest challenge promises most reward – Jun-05

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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