It’s true that thousands of caribou and other types of wildlife will be displaced if Washington DC law makers pass a measure to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
But there’s an even bigger issue floating under the radar: the very real possibility of an environmental tragedy that could be as catastrophic as the 1989 oil spill caused by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker. Especially if swift measures aren’t taken to address severe safety and maintenance issues plaguing drilling operations in nearby Prudhoe Bay - North America’s biggest oil field, 60 miles west of the ANWR - and other areas on Alaska’s North Slope.
That’s just one of many alarming claims that employees working for BP - the parent of BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc, the Anchorage company that runs the 24-year-old Prudhoe Bay on behalf of Phillips Alaska Inc, Exxon Mobil and other oil companies - have made over the years as a way of drawing attention to the dozens of oil spills. Three of these occurred between March and April this year alone. They assert it could happen in the ANWR if BP continues to neglect safety issues and the area is opened up to further oil and gas exploration.
Now, as President Bush renews his calls for opening up the ANWR to development, some of those very same BP employees are blowing the whistle on their company yet again and are turning to the one person who helped them expose oil companies’ cover ups on Alaska’s North Slope.
Chuck Hamel, an Alexandria, Va, oil industry watchdog has been leading the fight for the past 15 years against corporations’ BP, Conoco Phillips and ExxonMobil shoddy crude oil operations in Alaska. The safety and maintenance issues that Hamel and the BP whistleblowers brought to the attention of Congress and the public four years ago were supposed to be addressed by the oil company. Back in the 1980s, Hamel was the first person to expose weak pollution laws at the Valdez tanker port and electrical and maintenance problems with the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
Hamel, who is protecting the identities of the current whistleblowers, says not only do oil spills continue on the North Slope because BP neglects to address maintenance issues, but the oil behemoth’s executives routinely lie to Alaskan state representatives and members of the United States Senate and Congress about the steps they’re taking to correct the problems. The company also denies its employees claims of safety issues at its crude oil production facilities on the North Slope.
Hamel, however, has got some damning evidence on BP: photographs showing oil wells spewing a brown substance known as drilling muds, which contain traces of crude oil, on two separate occasions. Hamel says he’s determined to expose BP’s shoddy operations and throw a wrench in President Bush’s plans to open up the ANWR to drilling.
“I am going to throw a hiccup into the ANWR legislation,” Hamel said in an interview. “Until these oil companies clean up their act they can’t drill in ANWR because they are spilling oil in the North Slope.” If oil companies continue to fail to address safety problems at the North Slope “they’ll have another Exxon Valdez” type of oil spill on their hands, Hamel said.
On April 15, Hamel sent a letter to Senator Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate energy and natural resources committee, saying there have been three spills between late March and early April, at a time when BP and two of its drilling contractors are under investigation for charges of failing to report other oil spills in late 2004 and in January of this year.
"You obviously are unaware of the cheating by some producers and drilling companies," Hamel said in the letter to Domenici, an arch proponent of drilling in the ANWR. "Your official Senate tour” of Alaska in March “was masked by the orchestrated 'dog and pony show' provided you at the new Alpine Field, away from the real world of the Slope's dangerously unregulated operations."
Domenici’s office said the senator is reviewing Hamel’s letter.
In that letter, Hamel also claimed that whistleblowers had told of another cover-up, dating back to 2003, in which Pioneer Natural Resources and its drilling contractor, Nabors Alaska Drilling, allegedly disposed of more than 2,000 gallons of toxic drilling mud and fluids through the ice "to save the cost of proper disposal on shore”.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.