BP, Europe’s largest oil company, is under investigation by US regulators in connection with an Alaska oil spill last month when up to 267,000 gallons of crude leaked out of a BP-operated pipeline.
A person familiar with the investigation said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which oversees the safety of US pipelines, were investigating BP’s ruptured line and whether the company had violated safety regulations.The EPA said it would not confirm or deny criminal investigations.
Officials at Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation have separately said they would take action against BP because of the spill, including issuing “sizeable” fines.
The incident, which was discovered on March 2, occurred over an estimated five days on a transit line on the North Slope, in an area that contains the largest oil field in the US.
BP said on Thursday it had not received inquiries from the EPA or Alaska state regulators since the days after the spill, but that regulators were “pleased” with the company’s clean-up efforts to date.
The company said that it had completed its own investigation of the spill with the help of state regulators and members of a steel union, and that its report was in the process of being vetted by the Alaska agency.
News of the investigation undermines efforts by BP to portray the UK oil group as an environmentally-friendly company.
The spill has raised broader questions about BP’s maintenance of its ageing oil facilities in Alaska and whether the company ignored warnings from workers about maintenance standards.
BP on Thursday emphasised that the size of its corrosion inspection budget for the North Slope has increased from $50m in 2004 to $71m in 2006.
The investigation and potential fines against BP come just months after US regulators questioned the oil group’s safety culture in the wake of a Texas oil refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured more than 170.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), referred the Texas facility to the Department of Justice for possible “criminal action” after it found more than 300 violations at the refinery and fined the company $21m.
John Miles, regional administrator for the OSHA, last year said fatalities in the Texas incident were the result of a “wilful violation” by BP. The company has accepted responsibility for the explosion.
Get alerts on Energy sector when a new story is published