Exposed: BP, its pipeline, and an environmental timebomb

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The Independent Online

The safety of a controversial oil pipeline being built by one of Britain's largest companies has been jeopardised by cost-cutting, incompetence and shoddy workmanship by contractors, whistleblowers have reported.

The safety of a controversial oil pipeline being built by one of Britain's largest companies has been jeopardised by cost-cutting, incompetence and shoddy workmanship by contractors, whistleblowers have reported.

Former senior workers have revealed a catalogue of failures they say could lead to a major oil leak that would devastate one of the world's most environmentally sensitive areas. A dossier including their evidence, seen by The Independent, indicates BP's contractors and sub-contractors are cutting corners to get the job completed on time.

The whistleblowers, qualified professionals, say BP made a major mistake in handing control of the section of the 1,000-mile pipeline through Turkey to a government-owned company, Botas, on a fixed-price contract. The full line runs from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

The project ran into opposition from civil rights and environmental groups when BTC, the 11-member consortium led by BP, sought funding from public bodies such as the World Bank and the UK's Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD). Opponents said the pipeline, which would be driven through some of the world's most earthquake-prone and conflict-ridden areas, would wreak environmental, social and economic havoc. A spokesman for the ECGD said the department believed it had made a full assessment of the project before it decided to support it.

The whistleblowers' statements, which will be given to the MPs next month, say that:

  • builders cut off villages' water supplies, flooded farmland and allowed oil leaks;
  • there were insufficient checks for the risk of the pipe buckling in earthquake zones;
  • crucial welding work often failed inspections;
  • those who complained were sacked or made to leave;
  • workers handled toxic coating materials without proper health and safety equipment.

Dennis Adams, a senior engineer who quit after six weeks after not being paid, said the contractors' work was disorganised and mismanaged. Pipes were left exposed for longer than specifications allowed and trenches were filled with materials that might allow uncontrolled movement of the pipes. "Safety violations were occurring at all times, including workers in deep unprotected and unstable areas," he said.

"I don't have much hope for the future integrity or proper maintenance and operation of a pipeline of this size and importance being primarily sponsored by one of the largest petroleum companies in the world. It is quite obvious that [BP] are not in control of the Turkish section of this pipeline."

Another manager, who asked not to be named, said he was removed from his job after he raised concerns over the way the project was being managed. "I have over 20 years' pipeline experience and this project is unique. It's a complete mess-up. No one wants this on their CV. It's an embarrassment."

Documents were not properly kept and problems with inspections and the quality of the work being done were covered up. "Everything is done badly," he said. "I believe at this stage that quality issues - health, safety, environment - will be substantially affected."

Colynn Burrell, an American with 35 years' experience, said he was dismissed after 10 weeks working at the Ceyhan terminal for highlighting major design problems. He complained about a problem with the drainage system that meant toxins flowed straight into the ground. "I insisted on getting the subcontractor to seal the perforations at the bottom of the pipe to create a channel. The manager said it was expensive." Mr Burrell said he was told at one point that all pipe welding was being failed by inspectors; the normal failure rate was 6 per cent.

Mike Morley, a Briton who was sacked as a weld-coatings inspector, said "numerous" welds had to be redone; many others had been laid before inspection. Even when inspections did take place, the results were not filed. The House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee has started an inquiry into the decision by the department to use taxpayers' money to underwrite loans of $150m (£83m). Martin O'Neill, Committee chairman, said he would look at all allegations "without prejudice". The ECGD has commissioned a new report into the pipeline, which is expected next month.

A spokesman for BP said last night: "We, along with Botas, will continue look at any serious allegations and if they are valid make sure they are put right." He said Botas had pledged to maintain the highest health, safety, environment, labour and human rights standards and good international practices. "Botas has an obligation and BTC [the consortium] expects that Botas's construction techniques and testing regimes will ensure the pipeline will be laid safely and that it will operate safely in accordance with those standards," he said.

"Inevitably with construction projects of this size there are challenges, but BTC will continue to work with our partner to resolve them."



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