BP Dubbed "Bad Pipelines" by House Members

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BP Dubbed "Bad Pipelines" by House Members

WASHINGTON -- During a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, lawmakers criticized the oil giant's recent string of miscues, the Houston Chronicle reported.

House members listened to testimony on the explosion at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 people in March of 2005 and the recent oil spill from the company's Prudhoe Bay pipelines in Alaska, and were critical of BP, suggesting its "Beyond Petroleum" slogan should be "Bloated Profits" or "Bad Pipelines."

"If a company -- a very successful company -- can't do the basic maintenance needed to keep Prudhoe Bay's oil field operating safely and without interruption, then maybe it shouldn't be operating the pipeline," said Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the committee.

Barton continued, suggesting that Congress should call for BP's sale of the pipelines.

The questioning, which lasted nearly five hours, was fielded by chairman and president Robert Malone and BP's Alaska chief, Steve Marshall. Both were asked about the company's failure to consider warnings from employees about potential pipeline corruption and the intimidation of employees who voiced concerns over the corrosion, the Chronicle reported.

The committee also alleged that BP influenced an auditing company to "whitewash" a report that warned about leaks years prior to the actual spill, the newspaper reported. BP officials told the committee that the allegations were not confirmed by preliminary investigations into what went wrong in Alaska.

At the hearing, committee members asked the executives the reasoning behind the lack of smart pigging to check for corrosion in the pipes in Alaska. Marshall's answer, that the company believed there was better alternative methods available, was met with opposition from the committee, noting that smart pigging is an industry standard.

BP executive Richard Woollman, who headed the company's corrosion, inspection and chemicals group in Alaska from the late 90s to early in 2000, pleaded the Fifth Amendment to protect himself from self-incrimination and did not answer questions, the Chronicle reported.

Even with the Fifth invoked, Woollman was not free from criticism from Committee members, who cited a 2004 report by Houston-based Vinson & Elkins that said he created a "chilled atmosphere" to keep corrosion concerns from coming to the forefront. Malone told the committee that since then, Woollman was demoted, transferred and eventually put on leave from his position in Houston.

Currently, BP has maintained production in half of the Prudhoe Bay field and estimates that the shutdown could be lifted by the end of October after corrosion checks are finished, the newspaper reported. Also, a federal grand jury is investigating if BP's actions add up to a criminal violation of clean air and water standards.

Malone admitted that "the shine has come off the company," and that "We have fallen short of the high standards we hold for ourselves and the expectations that others have for us," but that reforms would restore the company’s image.