Former EPA investigator blows whistle on Alaska oil spill

Another indication to suggest BP = BIG POLITICS

http://www.nwcn.com/topstories/stories/NW_110308ENB_epa_alaska_spill_LJ.177810bf6.html

07:11 AM PST on Monday, November 3, 2008
By GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Video: Former EPA investigator blows whistle on Alaska oil spill
http://www.nwcn.com/sharedcontent/newslink/thumbnail/www.king5.com/0845/ki_110308WAbpinvestigation6a

SEATTLE – A former top EPA investigator who helped lead an investigation into a giant oil spill in Alaska is blowing the whistle to KING 5 News.

The investigator says it should have been a felony criminal case. So was oil giant BP let off the hook? KING 5’s environmental specialist Gary Chittim talked with the investigator in an exclusive report.

In March 2006, a ruptured pipeline stained the Alaskan tundra with 200,00 gallons of North Slope crude oil. It was second only to the Exxon Valdez in spill size and damage in Alaska.

The EPA’s lead criminal investigator in Seattle got an immediate phone call.

“I knew I had an investigation now to perform and I dispatched one of our special agents up to the North Slope,” said Scott West, EPA Special Agent in Charge, retired.

A year before, West says he met with BP engineers and employees who said they had continually warned their superiors a long section of the pipe was deteriorating and at risk of rupturing.

“And he said OK, that leak’s happened at a caribou crossing on the transit line, just like we predicted and there’s oil all over the place,” said West.

As West prepared for a criminal investigation into BP officials, Congress was already demanding answers in hearings and at first not getting them.

“Based upon the advice from council, I respectfully will not answer questions,” Richard Woollam, former head for BP Pipeline Corrosion, had told Congress.

The Congressional panel, including Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., accused the company of failing to properly maintain the lines.

“This was a very willful, deliberate, clear, premeditated if you will, decision not to do this known maintenance,” said Inslee.

While Congress kept demanding answers, West was pushing forward his criminal case.

By now, West says his case was picking up speed and strength. The FBI, the Justice Department and some of Alaska’s agencies were taking part and investing time, money and energy into the investigation.

“This was one of the largest devotions of manpower to an environmental case,” he said.

West says the group was looking at possible felony crimes at high level BP officials in the U.S. and Great Britain.

BP continued to clean up and replace lines and apologize for the spill, but insisted it was an unforeseeable accident.

Then suddenly, West and his investigators were called to Anchorage for an unforeseeable announcement from the Justice Department.

“I was dismissed. My investigation was shut down,” said West. “I have never seen the Department of Justice shutdown an investigation this strong, moving ahead with so much momentum.”

Case closed? Maybe not.

“You won’t be surprised if there is Congressional interest in this to find where this thread leads,” said West.

It has led West in a new direction. He’s decided to close his 19 year career at EPA by blowing the whistle on his most frustrating case.

BP ended up accepting a misdemeanor charge and paying a $20 million fine. KING 5 is requesting reactions from BP and the Justice Department.

~ by fredfelleman on November 3, 2008.

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