A new state report is sharply critical of BP for neglecting a natural gas pipeline that ruptured last fall in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, hurling big hunks of mangled steel pipe across the tundra.
"All parties agree this was a very serious incident – had the high pressure gas pipeline failure occurred under slightly different circumstances, the results would have been catastrophic, potentially with loss of life," the report says.
No one was injured, but photographs show the violence with which the pipe blew apart on Sept. 29 near a Prudhoe drill site called Y Pad.
When the above-ground pipe burst, releasing pressurized gas, the broken ends of the line – about 9 inches in diameter – whipped around like a garden hose going full-bore.
One end wrapped itself around a metal post.
Pieces of pipe went sailing onto the open tundra, plowing up ground when they landed.
Twelve workers were tending nearby wells and other equipment at the time. One of them, the well pad operator, "heard a loud gas release and felt a vibration," a BP document says.
But no one was close enough to be hit with the flying metal, and the workers were able to complete an emergency equipment shutdown.
The rupture was the result of what has become a painfully persistent problem for BP – corrosion that can eat holes in Prudhoe Bay's vast and aging pipeline network.
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