Did BP Almost Cause Another Big Oil Spill?

Thanks to its numerous retellings during BP’s (NYSE:BP) ongoing stream of oil-spill-related lawsuits, the details of the incident have become a cautionary tale other offshore oil drillers.

The April 2010 explosion that took place aboard Transocean’s (NYSE:RIG) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, contracted by BP, caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to spew into the ocean and killed 11 people. More than three years have passed since that day, and prosecutors are still working to assign blame. In BP’s continuing trial held in a U.S. District Court in New Orleans, lawyers for the plaintiffs — including the federal government — have accused BP, Transocean, and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) of placing profits above safety by cutting corners and ignoring safety tests showing that the well was unstable.

But this not the only oil spill allegation currently dogging BP. Last September, approximately 1,600 kilograms of gas and 125 barrels of oil leaked from the company’s production platform at the Ula field in the Norwegian section of the North Sea — a quantity considered significant by the Petroleum Safety Authority of Norway. The oil safety watchdog stated Monday that BP must review the manner in which it handles risk and maintenance at its off offshore oil platforms, Reuters reported. These are problems that have been brought up in the company’s current trial.

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“The incident had the potential to become a major accident, with the risk that a number of lives might have been lost and substantial material damage caused,” the agency said in a statement seen by the publication.

This incident was all the more concerning because the Petroleum Safety Authority has already told BP to improve the way it manages risk and maintenance its aging platforms following a fire at the Valhall field in the North Sea in 2011. The leak at Ula was caused by the fracturing of the bolts holding together a valve in a separator outlet. Following the spill, production was shut down for 67 days, but no one was injured.

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“The investigation has identified a number of serious breaches of the regulations, related in part to BP’s management system for activities (off Norway),” the PSA said. “Deficiencies still exist in the maintenance system.”

BP said it was working to fix the issues concerning the PSA. “The findings closely match BP’s own investigation and work has already started to address the issues raised and to fully comply with the orders by the end of 2013,” Jan Erik Geirmo, a spokesman for BP Norway, told Reuters.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has calculated that Ula holds an estimated 98.8 million barrels of recoverable oil reserves, of which BP owns 80 percent.

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