Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 9.8.06

Drilling for Truth

A partial shutdown of the nation's largest oilfield in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in August put many BP executives in the hot seat this week as Congress heard testimony about their responsibilities in maintaining pipes that feed into the Trans Alaskan Pipeline.

During the testimony, U.S. executives of the London-based company admitted maintenance errors which led to corrosion in key pipes.

"BP's operating failures are unacceptable," BP America Chairman Bob Malone told the legislators. "They have fallen short of what the American people expect of BP and they have fallen short of what we expect of ourselves."

Prudhoe Bay produces roughly eight percent of America's domestic oil production when fully operational. In August, that production was cut by 50 percent when the corrosion was revealed as part of government-mandated inspections.

Richard Woollam, a former BP official, accused of intimidating BP employees into suppressing concerns about safety, invoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. BP said Woollam is now on paid leave.

The petroleum giant said it would be more vigilant about pipe maintenance in the future, but some members of Congress wouldn't let the company get off that easy.

"Years of neglecting to inspect the most important oil-gathering pipeline in this country is not acceptable, "Texas Rep. Joe Barton said. The company was also criticized for presenting itself as environmentally-friendly when negligent oil spills had occurred under its watch.

BP is also being investigated for a 260,000 gallon pipeline spill in March 2006, as well as a refinery explosion that killed 15 workers in March 2005, and for allegations of manipulating energy prices in 2004.

"BP stands for a company with bloated profits that failed to fix bad pipelines," Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey said.

Related Links:

Listen to the Live Webcast of the Government Hearings

BP's Hard Road Ahead

PBS' 2004 documentary "Extreme Oil"