BP may face fine in welder's death

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) State safety officials have proposed a $6,300 fine against BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. in the December death of a contract welder. It's the second such action against the oil company this year.

In a notice sent this past week to BP, inspectors with the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health office accused the company of violating the state's general worker safety law.

For now the violation is merely alleged, and BP can contest it, said John Stallone, acting head of the safety office.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Friday the company had not yet decided what to do.

Rodney ''Rooster'' Rost, 55, of Soldotna, was a veteran welder employed by Norcon. On Dec. 21, he was welding a 28-inch pipe when he was hit in the head by a metal plug that flew out the end of the pipe.

The plug was a heavy metal disc that had been inserted into the pipe to hold back nitrogen gas put into the pipe to suppress any potential explosion from oil and gas residue inside, Stallone said.

A hose was attached to relieve pressure buildup inside the pipe. But ice crystals blocked the hose and high pressure caused the plug to pop out, hitting Rost, Stallone said.

''When it flew out of there, it was lethal,'' he said. ''After seeing the photographs, I don't think he knew what hit him. There was no warning, no nothing, just bang.''

The accident happened at Gathering Center 2 in the giant Prudhoe Bay oil field, which BP operates.

Stallone said his office found no willful or criminal violations, which would have resulted in a much higher proposed penalty. In this case, $6,300 is the maximum fine allowed for the type of violation alleged, he said.

BP and its contractors must correct some safety problems, Stallone said. One change is that workers now must make better use of gauges to warn against excessive pressure buildup, he said.

BP was hit with a similar violation and $6,300 fine this year for a North Slope well explosion and fire that critically injured oil field operator Don Shugak of Anchorage last Aug. 16. BP did not contest that violation and paid the fine.

Beaudo said BP believes it has made safety changes to prevent a recurrence of either type of mishap.

''The incident was deeply regrettable,'' he said of Rost's death. ''We cooperated fully with the investigation.''

In January, BP's Alaska president, Steve Marshall, told employees that the company's safety record was poor in 2002 and that it had to improve ''as if our lives and our future in Alaska depend on it. Because they do.''

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