BP Alaska Settlement: Enforcing the Law to Protect a Fragile Ecosystem

By Cynthia Giles

Looking at the picture of the BP Exploration Alaska facility taken from the window of a small plane as EPA inspectors flew over; you can’t help but notice the vastness of the Arctic tundra and the great expanse of pipeline that covers it. Home to habitat for caribou and many migratory bird species, the area also contains an abundance of domestic oil.

Those oil reserves, tucked below the often snow-covered surface, will help fuel the nation as we work to expand domestic energy production, transition to cleaner sources of fuel, and innovate our way to a cleaner, greener economy. But, the extraction of that oil must be done in a way that follows the law to ensure the protection of the fragile Arctic environment and the health and safety of the people who live and work there.

In 2006, leaks caused by a corroded pipeline spilled more than 5,000 barrels of oil, covering the tundra and reaching a nearby lake. The spill was the largest ever on the North Slope of Alaska and was the result of the company failing to properly operate and maintain its 1,600 miles of pipeline. Because of that negligence, EPA, working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation (who oversee pipeline safety) pushed for the toughest per barrel penalty ever for an oil spill.

This week, we settled with BP, imposing a $25 million dollar penalty and requiring the company to drastically reduce the types of conditions, like internal pipe corrosion, that lead to the spills. But, we can’t just take their word for it when a company has a history of failing to properly maintain and monitor their operations, so we have also called for BP to hire an independent monitor to confirm that they are meeting the requirements of the settlement.

EPA takes its responsibility to protect people’s health and the environment very seriously. We have an obligation to vigorously enforce our nation’s environmental laws and companies that cut corners and fail to follow those laws will be penalized. American’s expect companies to operate in a safe, responsible and legal way and EPA is hard at work to make sure that they do.

About the author: Cynthia Giles is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.