June 23rd, 2010
08:29 PM ET

BP Alaska: A Ticking Time Bomb?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/23/alaska.pipeline.jpg caption="A buried section of the 800 mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline carries crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to the ice free port of Valdez, Alaska."]

Randi Kaye | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Program Note: See Randi Kaye's full report tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET.

“Where do I begin?”

That’s what I asked myself this week as I found myself sitting in my office at CNN in New York City with a mountain of documents in front of me. Hundreds of documents that were given to us from a BP Alaska employee named Marc Kovac. It was up to my producer, Susan Chun, and me to make sense of it all.

Kovac has been with BP since 1977. He started when he was just 24. Today he builds compressors for them but he worked on the pipelines for 18 years on Alaska’s North Slope. Kovac first shared his story with the nonprofit news website, TruthOut.Org, and when we called him he had plenty more to say.

Kovac believes what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, with the Deepwater Horizon explosion, is bound to happen in Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. He says BP Alaska is a ticking time bomb. Kovac says, BP has a history of spills, fires, and explosions there. He says employees have died because BP cuts corners when it comes to safety to save money. BP’s Steve Rinehart, in response, told me their budget does not impact their safety program.

Another popular theme in my mountain of paperwork and BP documents was corrosion. Kovac worries there aren’t enough workers to monitor all the pipeline for corrosion and leaks. If a pipeline gets heavily corroded it can explode or burst. That’s what happened in 2006 in Prudhoe Bay. An aging corroded pipeline burst and 200,000 barrels of oil spilled. A federal judge fined BP $20 million and put the oil giant on probation for three years. BP plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act. The company told us its “corrosion efforts have improved” in recent years and they’ve upped their “pipeline inspections from 40,000 to 90,000 this year.”

Kovac is certainly showing courage talking with us. We weren’t sure he’d agree to an on camera interview since he still works for the company but he did. He did say he expects BP management to come down on him for doing an interview with us since, he says, it’s well known that BP has a history of harassing and intimidating workers who speak up about safety concerns. BP says that’s not true and any employee “has the right to raise his or her hand and say stop the job without retaliation” if they feel unsafe.

Still, Kovac says he’s really angry. He’s angry that he’s lost friends on the slope, he’s angry friends have been injured on the slope, and he’s really angry 11 men died in the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon exploded. He told us too many fire and gas protection warning systems are not in compliance in Alaska and that worries him. BP’s Rinehart said “they are old systems and we are in the midst of a steady step by step process to upgrade these.”

For Kovac, that’s not good enough. He remembers when CEO Tony Hayward promised to make safety the soul of the company. He says that was “lip service, all show and no go.” That is why he’s sounding the alarm today.. hoping to avoid another BP catastrophe.. closer to home.

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Randi Kaye
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Martin Anderson

    If the new CEO of BP Bob Dudley is serious about change, then remgove all the gag orders and let people speak freely about the past. This will start real change and save peoples lives and the enviroment. Hold those accountable by removing them not promoting them and find those who have put thier families and lives in harms way to do the right thing by them. As an Alaskan, oilfield worker and elected official of the people I have a responsibility to do the right thing. Hopefuly one day BP will no longer stand for beyond people.

    October 28, 2010 at 3:49 am |
  2. Helen

    Thanks again, Anderson, for your outstanding coverage!

    July 26, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  3. Elena Storino

    Dear CNN, we should not be digging into the earth to get the energy we need, I believe we are disrupting the natural balance that keeps our planet stable, we can get clean energy from the surface of the earth. Earth is beautiful and we need to keep it that way; if we switch to clean energy: it will create a cleaner planet, helping us live heathier; it will create jobs; it will maintain the beauty of the earth, which we all enjoy. I believe that biology, the study of life, and ecology, study of the earth, should be a required class in grade school and high school. We need to learn what maitains life; after all, we only have one home, earth. Elena Storino

    July 26, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  4. Rep David Guttenberg

    As an Alaskan legislator I have been working on the accountability issue for not just BP but for Alyeska Pipeline, the main 48" line that carries north slope gas to tidewater.
    BP owns 49% of Alyeska and has recently taken actions that put the pipeline at risk by moving key personal hundreds of miles aways from their responsiblity.

    June 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  5. Mel Higgins

    Please follow the trail and film what BP is doing with the tar and soiled booms when they take it away out of sight. We can't trust BP can we?

    June 23, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Carol B.

    Hi Randi! You are such a great, thorough, unbiased reporter. Tony Hayward obviously made a Faustian bargain when he sold his soul for profit. Thanks for filling us in with all the data and facts in between! Hopefully some Einstein (or not) will figure out a way to sever the leak and save wildlife and people's culture and livings. Blessings.

    June 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Sounds like Obama needs to stop BP work on US soil and waters until they replace their antiquated safety equipment and procedures. If they can't drill here until they show that they are safe and will remain safe, then perhaps BP will actually do more than pay lip service to safety.

    June 23, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  8. Rekha

    I hope there are no more oil spills hence. Looking forward to seeing you report on ac360.

    June 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  9. nativegrl77

    great info and scary as well. I hope Kovac finds a company worthy of both his integrity and talents.

    June 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm |

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