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GAO Faults Agencies Regulating Alaska Pipeline

A FEDERAL investigation has found that government regulators failed to adequately monitor the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to ensure the safe delivery of a major source of American oil and to protect the environment. ``The complacency that has existed over the last 14 years must be replaced with a systematic, disciplined and coordinated approach that will ensure operational safety, oil spill response and environmental protection,'' concluded the General Accounting Office (GAO).

The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. - a consortium of seven major oil companies formed to operate the pipeline and the Valdez oil terminal - has been allowed to police itself while regulatory oversight has been cursory at best, the GAO said.

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Properly monitoring the pipeline and ensuring its safety will be costly, the GAO said, but ``comparing these costs with the costs associated with mitigating the environmental impacts of a major oil spill or the disruption in the delivery of 25 percent the nation's domestic oil production may show the value of spending additional funds now to help to ensure the pipeline's safe operation.''

Alyeska is owned by subsidiaries of British Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield, Exxon, Mobil, Amerada Hess, Phillips, and Unocal. The pipeline pumps nearly 2 million barrels daily from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields to the port of Valdez, Alaska. It is the biggest single source of domestic oil; more than 8 billion barrels have passed through the pipeline since 1977.

The GAO faulted five federal and state agencies, but especially the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state Department of Natural Resources, for failing to play an active role overseeing pipeline safety.

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