Report blasts operators of Trans-Alaska pipeline



WASHINGTON (AP)—The operators of the Trans-Alaska pipeline displayed contempt for quality control, may have destroyed documents and fostered a ‘‘repressive atmosphere’‘ to stifle critics, Congress was told Wednesday.

In a severe scolding, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said a new study has revealed significant and potentially risky practices by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline, and its owners. They include Exxon Corp., British Petroleum and Atlantic Richfield Co.

Appearing before the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, officials of those corporations acknowledged some shortcomings and promised that deficiencies would be corrected.

But Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., said an audit prepared for BLM by Owen Thero, an independent engineering consultant, confirms the panel’s suspicions about the Alyeska operation.

Alyeska pumps and ships more than one-quarter of U.S. domestic oil production each year.

Some of the oil company executives said the operation should receive full credit for moving billions of gallons of petroleum safely in the 16 years since the pipeline opened, a record they said is unmatched in the world.

But Jim Baca, the BLM’s director, sharply disagreed.

‘‘There are shortcomings everywhere underneath the thin veneer of successful oil pumping,’‘ he said. ‘‘The electrical systems, control systems, monitoring systems and fire suppression systems are examples of support system hardware in trouble.’‘

Baca said serious risks are posed by inadequacies in Alyeska’s quality control, repair, maintenance, inspection, procurement, storage, testing, employee training and hazard-prevention programs.

‘‘Our operation found an operation that pumps a lot of oil and generally does that job satisfactorily,’‘ Baca said. ‘‘However, they also found evidence of document destruction and falsification relating to various monitoring reports ….’‘

‘‘They found an operation and an organization that are replete with problems, many of which introduce a level of risk into day-to-day operation(s) … Continued failure in any one of these areas could have dire repercussions,’‘ he said.

Baca ticked off a host of problem areas found by auditors in the pipeline’s operations. They include:

_Lax management and a ‘‘muddled internal working relationship’‘ at the Joint Pipeline Office,’‘ problems that Baca said include BLM’s own participation in that office.

_‘‘An adversarial attitude by Alyeska that bred contempt for the concerns of the public interest.’‘

_‘‘A destructive disunity among the owner companies in their approach towards running Alyeska ….’‘

_‘‘Grave deficiencies in all types of documentation ….’‘

_‘‘A repressive atmosphere at Alyeska that punishes or intimidates those who are aware of problems and who try to shed light on them so they can be corrected.’‘

‘‘In our judgment, as regulators, Alyeska has violated every provision’‘ of agreements relating to quality assurance,’‘ Baca said, adding that a right-of-way agreement lays out the requirements ‘‘in plain English.’‘

He contended that over the years, Alyeska has used ‘‘dueling experts and competing audits’‘ to delay and confuse efforts to correct faults in the pipeline’s management.

Baca said BLM has contracted with Batelle Labs to inspect the pipeline and to analyze stresses, pipeline curvature and corrosion.