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Alaskan Oil Pipeline Leak Raises Environmental Concerns

The oil giant British Petroleum will shut down most of its production at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of corroded pipelines. An industry specialist outlines the environmental problems with the BP site and the president of BP Exploration Alaska explains the company's response.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, to questions about what went wrong at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska and its possible impact. For the record, the operator of the oil field, B.P., is a NewsHour underwriter. Ray Suarez begins our coverage with some background.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    With B.P.'s announcement that it was shutting down the nation's single-biggest source of domestic crude oil came official apologies.

    BOB MALONE, Chairman and President, B.P. North America: B.P. deeply regrets that it's been necessary for us to take this drastic action.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Bob Malone, chairman of B.P. America, said the world's second-largest oil company was beginning to turn off the taps at its Prudhoe Bay production site after severe corrosion was discovered in most of its 22 miles of transit pipeline.

  • BOB MALONE:

    B.P. will commit the necessary human and financial resources to complete this job safely and as quickly as possible.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in North America. Located 650 miles north of Anchorage, it spreads over more than 200,000 acres.

    The B.P. facility was producing about 2.6 percent of the nation's daily supply of oil, or about 400,000 barrels a day. Malone said it could take weeks or months to replace the pipelines, and the company will shore up infrastructure, evaluate maintenance and safety, and, if possible, keep some parts operational.

  • BOB MALONE:

    We want to focus on four priorities. The first is to assure the safety and integrity of our operating infrastructure. Secondly, to minimize any impact to the environment. Third, to continue to cooperate and work closely with the agencies, both state and federal. And to restore production as soon as it is safely — and I want to reinforce "safely" — possible.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    B.P. operates the Prudhoe Bay field for itself and nine other companies, including Conoco-Phillips and ExxonMobil. B.P. officials said the aging pipeline system, built in the 1960s and '70s, had not been cleaned properly over the years.

  • STEVE MARSHALL, President, B.P. Exploration Alaska:

    Clearly, in hindsight, that program was insufficient and will be rectified going forward.