BP’s Probation Officer Petitions Federal Judge to Revoke Company’s Probation Over Alaska Oil Spill

Days before BP Exploration Alaska's (BPXA) probation was due to end, a federal probation officer petitioned a US District Court judge to revoke the company's probation over a 46,000 gallon oil spillthat occurred in November 2009.

The probation officer, Mary Frances Barnes, said in court documents filed Wednesday that the November 29, 2009, spill at BPXA's Lisburne facility amounted to “criminal negligence” under state law and the federal Clean Water Act and violated the terms of the probation agreement BP signed in November 2007 following a 212,000 gallon oil spill on the North Slope a year earlier. The spill was blamed on severely corroded pipelines.

BPXA pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor and paid a $20 million fine for violating the Clean Water Act and the company was placed on probation for three years.

“The [2007] Plea Agreement provided an opportunity for BPXA to be released from probation after only one year if they created and met certain pipeline and operational benchmarks aimed at addressing the causes of the spill,” Barnes noted in her petition. “BPXA failed to meet those requirements.”

Barnes' recommendation comes less than two months after the Department of Justice (DOJ) refused to pursue a probation revocation case against BP after the company was found to have violated a federal judge's March 2009 felony judgment, which required BP to fulfill the terms of a settlement agreement it entered into with government regulators five years ago to make certain safety upgrades at its Texas City refinery following an explosion at the facility that killed 15 people and injured 170 others.

US District Court Judge Ralph Beistline will decide if he agrees with Barnes' probation revocation request and, if so, he may levy additional fines against BPXA or extend the company's probation. A hearing in the case has been scheduled for December 20 in federal court in Anchorage.

Karen Loeffler, the US Attorney in Alaska, will represent the government in court proceedings pertaining to the probation revocation. Loeffler was previously the the chief of the office's criminal division. According to Scott West, the former special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division (CID), Loeffler had played a role in a decision by the Justice Department to pull the plug on a criminal probe West was conducting into the 2006 oil spill, which threatened to net top BP officials.