BP expects to be fined for Prudhoe explosion

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is expecting state safety regulators to fine the company for a well fire and explosion last August that critically injured an oil field worker.

The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health office has notified BP that it will receive a citation and probably a fine, said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

The citation will say the company violated the state's ''safe employment'' law, including failure to protect workers from a high-pressure well and failure to ensure that employees followed the procedure for safely reactivating the well after a shutdown, he said.

The citation probably will be issued in the next couple of weeks, Beaudo said. The size of the fine has not been specified.

''It's still under investigation so we can't make any comment,'' said Thomas Brudnicki, an industrial hygienist with Occupational Safety and Health.

BP has cooperated fully with the state investigation and has taken internal steps to probe the accident, review its procedures, and change company policies to guard against another explosion, Beaudo said.

In a related development, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that oversees oil and gas production, has issued an order spelling out how BP must manage wells with pressure problems like those in the well that exploded.

BP already has implemented, or pledged to fulfill, the steps outlined for high-pressure wells, Beaudo said.

The explosion occurred early on the morning of Aug. 16, 2002, when BP oil field worker Don Shugak of Anchorage arrived to relieve pressure at well A-22, on Prudhoe's A Pad.

The explosion in the metal wellhouse blasted Shugak several feet toward his company truck parked nearby. He suffered serious burns, multiple broken bones and other injuries and spent about three months in a Seattle hospital recuperating.

A BP investigation found that steel casing ruptured 17 feet below the surface of the ground, releasing high pressure that damaged valves inside the wellhouse and triggered a natural gas explosion.

Days later, BP temporarily shut down 137 wells with pressure problems similar to that of well A-22, and inspected them for safety. The shutdown delayed production last year of about 2 million barrels of oil worth roughly $50 million. This was, however, only about 1 percent of Prudhoe Bay's expected output for the year.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is requiring BP to provide a ''hazard study'' of high-pressure wells by Feb. 14, and to submit a pressure-management plan that includes ''timely'' testing and commission notification of wells with pressure problems.

BP officials say the company already has set stricter pressure limits for operating wells, and set out rules for workers to more closely monitor wells on startup, which was the point at which A-22 exploded and injured Shugak.

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