BP hopes to restart Prudhoe oil flow

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BP could seek permission to restart production from the eastern part of its troubled Alaskan oilfield as soon as this week, the company's US boss told members of Congress.

Bob Malone faced his second grilling on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are furious that BP allowed pipelines to become so dangerously corroded that it was forced to shut large parts of the US's biggest oilfield.

The Prudhoe Bay oilfield had accounted for 8 per cent of US oil production until the crisis in July, which has severely damaged BP's environmental and operational reputation. The company has been pumping just 250,000 barrels a day instead of the usual 400,000 while it replaces 16 miles of pipelines.

Restarting part of the shut-down eastern side of the field will allow BP to quickly conduct maintenance of the pipeline and use a "smart pig" robot device to check the interior of the line, Mr Malone told the Senate energy committee. The company will ask the US Transportation Department for permission to restart part of the pipeline if it passes the tests this week.

When the company wins approval, it can resume production from two flow stations situated on the eastern pipeline, Mr Malone said. After the restart, if inspection results show that these line segments "are not fit for service" then bypass pipelines to move the crude "will be completed as soon as practicable," he said.

Oil prices, which had spiked sharply higher when BP announced the Prudhoe Bay shutdown, continued their slide for a seventh consecutive day yesterday. In London, ICE October Brent was down 60 cents at $63.95 after sliding at one point to $63.53, its lowest level since March.

Before yesterday's congressional hearings, environmental campaigners massed in Washington to attack BP's environmental record in Alaska and to call for greater oil industry investment in renewable sources of energy.

And BP was attacked by senators on the energy committee over allegations that it persistently ignored employee concerns over corrosion. If BP had paid attention, it may have avoided Alaska's worst-ever on-land oil spill from a corroded pipeline in March.

Pete Domenici, the New Mexico senator who chairs the committee, said BP's failure to maintain adequately the pipeline was "inexcusable". He said: "This is a black eye on BP."