The Associated Press: Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants review of 800-mile Alaska pipeline system

JUNEAU, Alaska — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has asked the operator of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline system to conduct a safety review of the line, saying it’s critical the public have the highest level of confidence in its maintenance following a power outage in May.

The call by the Alaska Republican follows a recent meeting with Kevin Hostler, a former BP executive and outgoing president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. State Rep. David Guttenberg agrees with the need for confidence in the running of the aging line, but he said it will only come with an outside review.

“We’re better off without them lying to us,” said Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat who’s criticized recent job transfers, claiming they’re an example of cost-cutting measures that could take Alyeska down a dangerous path.

Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan disputed Guttenberg’s characterization, noting the transfers have affected people in his district. She said Monday the review would be conducted by a third party and that Alyeska had been planning to do a review anyway in light of the outage that resulted in a 5,000-barrel contained oil spill in May.

With the exception of isolated incidents, such as the nearly 80-hour shutdown of the line in May due to a reported power failure, Alyeksa’s overall safety record “demonstrates we do take good care of the pipeline,” Egan said, “and Alaskans can be confident we’ll continue to do that.”

Murkowski wants the review to look at a range of maintenance issues, including leak detection, power generation and backup; relief tank capacity. Spokesman Robert Dillon knew of no set timeline for the review to be completed but said Murkowski expects it “sooner rather than later.”

BP Pipelines (Alaska) is the largest single owner of the line, which carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope to Valdez, where it’s then destined for refineries. Other pipeline owners include ConocoPhillips Transportation Alaska Inc., ExxonMobil Pipeline Co., Unocal Pipeline Co. Inc. and Koch Alaska Pipeline Co. LLC. The line is independent of BP.

Its management has come under recent scrutiny, with U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, citing an internal report that he said found widespread employee dissatisfaction with the pipeline’s operation and raised serious concerns with the management culture at Alyeska.

The Joint Pipeline Office, which represents state and federal agencies overseeing the line, said it was briefed on the survey. In a letter this month to Guttenberg, in which it largely defended Alyeska and praised its safety record as having been “very good,” it said it was discouraged by survey results indicating “a decline in the number of employees who are willing to report concerns due to fear of harassment or retaliation.”

“Separate from the survey, the JPO has received independent complaints regarding lack of complete drawings, procedures and maintenance tasks,” the letter signed by agency officials said.

Earlier this month, Egan acknowledged the survey found “some issues about people’s comfort level, raising issues beyond their supervisors.” She said Alyeska was working to improve communication.

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Source: By Becky Bohrer. Originally published July 26, 2010