Judge dismisses government's move to revoke BP's probation

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed a claim by the U.S. Justice Department that BP had violated terms of a probation order when a field pipeline ruptured and spilled oil in 2009.

BP was on probation over a series of spills in 2006 from Prudhoe Bay field pipelines that were caused by corrosion. The company paid a $20 million penalty over violations resulting from the spills.

The probation had been scheduled to end Nov. 30, 2010. The Justice Department filed its petition for a revocation of the probation Nov. 16, 2010.

In a decision released Dec. 27, Beistline found that BP did not violate terms of the probation and also released the company from probation, which had been scheduled.

Beistline held proceedings in Anchorage from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7 to hear evidence.

The 2009 spill occurred when an 18-inch field pipeline that was not in service but still containing a mixture of produced water and oil froze and ruptured, spilling an oil-water mixture on the tundra. BP cleaned up the oil spill, estimated at 362 barrels, and subsequently repaired the pipe.

In its petition the Justice Department contended that BP should have known about the freezing and blockage earlier than it did, citing a similar problem with a pipeline in 2001, and that better positioning and monitoring of sensors on the L-3 pipeline would have alerted BP to the freeze-up problem.

BP responded that the sensors were installed in 1993 for a different reason — to monitor for problems with handling natural gas in the pipeline.

The government had also claimed BP failed to adequately respond when the no-flow condition of the pipeline was discovered on Nov, 14 and the rupture and spill occurred on Nov. 29.

In his decision, Beistline wrote, “the government has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that BP committed criminal negligence. While the court would prefer a failsafe system where accidents never happen, it recognized that human beings and engineering practices are not perfect and that, on occasion, unexpected or unanticipated accidents can and will happen.”

Beistline concluded BP was in compliance with industry standards in its operation of the L-3 line and that the pipeline alarm systems were operating in line with accepted standards.

The judge also noted that BP conducted a thorough investigation of the 2009 pipe rupture and had shared it with the government.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said, “We are pleased with the decision and appreciate the court’s attention. We know that the privilege of working in Alaska comes with a responsibility to maintain high standards. We will continue our commitment to running safe and compliant operations.”

Tim Bradner can be reached at [email protected].

11/07/2016 - 1:09pm