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U.S. v. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.
Denali Fault: Alaska Pipeline, View south along the Trans Alaska Pipeline.  Photographer: Tim Dawson , U.S. Geological Survey

Oil Spills on the North Slope of Alaska

photo of the pipeline spill which is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Environmental ConservationOn the North Slope of Alaska, an area just bigger than the state of Minnesota, BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. (BPXA) operates several oil fields, including Greater Prudhoe Bay, which is the largest oil field in North America and one of the oldest on the North Slope. In two major oil spills in the spring and summer of 2006 BPXA illegally discharged an estimated 213,242 gallons of crude oil from its pipelines into Prudhoe Bay.  Oil spills are known to cause both immediate and long-term harm to human health and ecosystems  and can cause long-term effects years later even if the oil remains in the environment for a relatively short period of time.

After the Spills

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) determined that the spills were a result of BPXA’s failure to properly inspect and maintain the pipeline to prevent corrosion. PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order (CAO) to BPXA that addressed the pipeline’s risks and ordered pipeline repair or replacement.  EPA  investigated the extent of the oil spills and oversaw BPXA’s cleanup. When BP XA did not fully comply with the terms of the corrective action, EES filed a complaint in March 2009 alleging violations of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Pipeline Safety Act.

The Outcome

In July 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska entered a consent decree between the United States and BPXA resolving the government’s claims.  Under the consent decree, BPXA paid a $25 million civil penalty, the largest per-barrel penalty at that time for an oil spill, and agreed to take measures to significantly improve inspection and maintenance of its pipeline infrastructure on the North Slope to reduce the threat of additional oil spills.  The measures BPXA is required to take include the following:

  • develop and implement a comprehensive program to maintain the integrity of the entire Prudhoe Bay pipeline system consisting of over 1600 miles of pipeline, including both transportation and production lines. This Integrity Management Program (IMP) will address corrosion and other threats to BPXA’s oil transit pipelines and upstream production pipelines on the North Slope. BPXA is also required to hire an independent monitoring contractor to consult with the government to ensure BP is in compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree.
  • operate its oil transit pipelines as potentially affecting “high consequence areas.” This will subject the pipelines to PHMSA’s pipeline integrity regulations.
  • evaluate new leak detection technologies and report to the government whether new technology can improve leak sensitivity and response times and revise its asbestos safety training course to include asbestos awareness information.

Last Updated: October 2012