FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Water that froze in a pipe led to the death of a welder on the North Slope Dec. 21, according to an investigation of the incident.
Rodney Rost, 55, of Soldotna died at a BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. facility on the North Slope. The company completed its investigation last week.
Water that froze in a vent line kept nitrogen from escaping and caused so much pressure in a 28-inch pipe that a metal plug blew out, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said.
The plug hit Rost in the head, killing him instantly. It was the first death of a BP worker or BP contractor on the North Slope since 1998.
Beaudo said Rost and the two others on the job, which was to recommission a water line, did not use a pressure gauge while working on the pipe.
The reason nitrogen was routed into the pipe and the plug was in place was to prevent hydrocarbons, which are potentially flammable, from coming into contact with the welder's torch.
''Ironically, that plug was there as a safety barrier for Mr. Rost,'' Beaudo said.
Because of the incident, BP has imposed a moratorium on work involving plugs and nitrogen purges, Beaudo said. The company has also tightened policy concerning such work so there is no doubt a pressure gauge must be used.
Rost worked for a BP contractor, Norcon Inc., a subsidiary of Veco Corp.
''In hindsight, we wish they would have had a pressure gauge on the system,'' said Bill Morrow, Norcon president. The company is revamping some of its policies and procedures as well, he said. Rost had worked for Norcon for about seven years.
The investigation of Rost's death involved both BP, Norcon, Rost's labor union and an industry expert.
Gas pressure caused another accident on the North Slope in August, when a well ruptured, releasing natural gas that exploded and injured a BP oil field operator, Don Shugak.
BP has decided not to contest a $6,300 fine levied by the state for a safety violation in that Aug. 16 incident, Beaudo said. The violation was for failing to adequately protect employees from a well with known pressure problems.
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