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December 27, 2011 --- Vol. 17, No. 109December 2011

BP wins, government loses in probation case

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. did not violate its probation as a result of the November 2009 pipeline rupture and oil spill near its Lisburne oil production center on Alaska’s North Slope, a federal judge ruled today.

In a 13-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline of Anchorage noted that “well qualified engineers simply did not anticipate the problem that ultimately developed” with the 18-inch pipeline, which burst after a freeze-up.

The judge concluded that the government “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that BP committed criminal negligence” under Alaska statutes. The judge also declined to find that the company had run afoul of the Clean Water Act.

“While the Court would prefer a failsafe system where accidents never happen, it recognizes that human beings and engineering practices are not perfect and that, on occasion, unexpected or unanticipated accidents can and will happen,” Beistline wrote. “Certainly, in retrospect, things could have been done differently that may, or may not, have prevented this spill. But in the instant case, the Court concludes, based on the evidence presented, that BP was following accepted industry practices at all relevant times and could not have reasonably expected a blowout similar to the one that occurred on November 29, 2009.”

Federal authorities had accused BP Alaska of violating the probation imposed on the company after it pled guilty to an environmental misdemeanor in connection with a major pipeline leak in the Prudhoe Bay oil field in 2006.

Beistline said he couldn’t fault the government for accusing the company of violating its probation. He also put BP on notice.

“In the future ... if a similar freeze up and spill were to occur under similar circumstances, the Court would view the entire matter differently,” he wrote.

—Wesley Loy

See story in Jan. 1 issue, available online at 11 a.m., Friday, Dec. 30, at www.PetroleumNews.com

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