"Crime Scene": Oil Industry Vultures Pick Over Alaska
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A couple of years back, I received an extraordinary note from a guy who couldn’t be better placed. The message was like manna from Heaven, or if I were Inupiat, a whale falling from the sky.
How can I confidentially contact Greg Palast? I am an ex-employee of BP and I can tell you all about the safety issues on the Pipeline.
“Ex-employee” is one way of putting it. I confirmed who we had. Calling himself an ex-employee is like calling a shark an “ex-minnow.” He had been a big fish at BP-Alaska, BP-Azerbaijan, BP-Colombia. I was hoping to find him still in Prudhoe, and talk face-to-face.
But his e-mail address had changed. I didn’t like that. I liked it even less when, after searching all night, Badpenny located his new office number—in Houston. I gave him a ring through his office switchboard and heard his friendly Southern drawl:
“Doncha ever ever EVER call me here. Or call me anywhere. Ever EVER. I work inside this . . . well, can’t talk can’t talk.”
I took it he didn’t want to talk. I work inside this . . . This Leviathan. Swallowed whole.
Rick and I skulked around the off-limits part of the Dead Horse Prudhoe encampment, Etok’s buddies on security detail winking us through. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I found it anyway: A huge airplane hangar– size building marked PIG. It wasn’t BP’s Lord Browne’s old office. It was another crime scene. The BP/Alyeska pipeline was dripping and ripping. In five years, it had dumped a quarter-million gallons of crude into the tundra. BP’s pipeline is an Exxon Valdez in slow motion.
Based on the cancers I’d seen in Ecuador, I knew what would happen if this oozing continued. But this is America, not Ecuador, and we don’t let these things happen. So how come it is happening?
I only trusted one man to tell me the truth: Inspector Dan Lawn.
When we found the Inspector, he told me I couldn’t understand spam if I didn’t go immediately to Pump Station #9 on Delta Junction, which, accord- ing to a map, was a couple hundred miles from nowhere. He offered to take us by Jeep. Including his drive from Anchorage, that meant a thousand-mile trip for him without sleep.
I should say “Inspector Lawn, retired.” Now that he no longer has to spend his days monitoring oil transport, he spends his days monitoring oil transport. He’s a walking Wikipedia of pipes and petroleum; and I love to stand in the warm shower of his gushing spray of facts, figures, and documents. For me, the hundreds of miles by Jeep alongside the pipeline was a techno-treat.
Just months earlier, on May 24, 2010, Pump Station #9 had cracked open and barfed up 100,000 gallons of crude. A 100,000-gallon spill used to be news. But you didn’t read about it because the Macondo hole in the Gulf was spewing that much in four hours. Add 100,000 gallons to the 200,000 gallons at Prudhoe. Those are warning spurts of BP’s next disaster.
Why is the pipe going to hell? I asked the Inspector for just the facts.
“They haven’t pigged it.” That is, they didn’t run the Pipeline Inspection Gauge, the PIG, the robot that runs inside the pipe. If they had, the Smart PIG (one with sensor-feelers) would have squealed at every crack and rusty chunk of the tube.
Sure enough, the records show that 400 miles of the Pipe hadn’t seen a PIG in eight years. Why? It costs up to a million dollars a mile to operate. Four hundred miles, $400 million. BP must have realized it’s cheaper to pay a fine.
After endless government scoldings, the company merely threw coins on the ground for the fines and laughed until Pump Station #9 caught fire and spewed oil, then laughed some more. The Inspector filled me up with another book’s worth of scary info, then dropped us in Fairbanks and began his second sleepless night of driving. Badpenny, worried, stayed up past dawn chatting with him by cell every hour to keep him awake and safe. If you need a guardian angel, you could do worse.