BP faces more US safety questions

A powerful US Congressman is demanding BP’s immediate response to charges of safety lapses in its Alaskan oilfield, including putting non-essential workers inside blast zones.

George Miller, chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, is also raising charges by Chuck Hamel, a long-time advocate for BP workers in Alaska, that the company’s Central Gas Facility, which was designed and built to operate safely with no more than 5bn cubic feet of gas under pressure, is functioning at 9.2bn cubic feet.

Mr Miller also said there were charges that the field had a dysfunctional flare system and had turned off its antiquated fire-suppression system during work to monitor corrosion.

Locating non-essential workers in the blast zone and keeping an outdated, dysfunctional flare system were factors in the explosion at BP’s Texas refinery in 2005, which killed 15 and injured 500 – the worst industrial accident in the US in a decade.

That accident coupled with a spill and severe corrosion at BP’s Alaskan field have led Congress to hold repeated hearings on the UK oil company as they investigate its US operations.

Mr Miller’s committee held a hearing in March on the Texas explosion and now is turning its attention to Alaska.

“This committee continues to be concerned about workplace safety conditions at this nation’s refineries and other facilities,’’ Mr Miller wrote to Bob Malone, president of BP’s American operations, in a letter late on Friday.

Ronnie Chappell, BP spokesman, said: “We are reviewing Congressman Miller's letter, we will investigate the concerns communicated to us, we will take appropriate action on those concerns and we will respond to Congressman Miller’s questions.’’

The issues could prove embarrassing for Tony Hayward, who succeeded Lord Browne as BP chief executive. Since 2003, he had led BP’s exploration and production division – which oversaw the Alaska field.

The charges are being raised by Mr Hamel on behalf of members of BP’s Alaska workforce. Mr Hamel has been instrumental in bringing to Congress safety lapses at Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, the biggest US oilfield.

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