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Monday, April 25, 2005

Whistleblower returns with a warning

Chuck Hamel has been flying under the radar for a while. A former British Petroleum employee and longtime whistleblower on Alaskan oil companies, he has revealed a number of safety and pollution problems on the North Slope that the drillers have tried to keep quiet.

Well, apparently he's back in action now and warning that if drilling is allowed in ANWR, the refuge could be in for a devastating oil spill on par with the Exxon Valdez accident unless state and federal officials get a lot more rigorous in patrolling the drillers. checks in with this story on Hamel's latest crusade, which includes an April 15 letter to Sen. Pete Dominici, R-N.M., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and an ardent ANWR drilling supporter.

Hamel's letter claims there have been three oil spills on the North Slope between March and early April.

"You obviously are unaware of the cheating by some producers and drilling companies," Hamel said in the letter. "Your official Senate tour (of Alaska in March) was masked by the orchestrated 'dog and pony show' provided you at the new Alpine Field, away from the real world of the Slope's dangerously unregulated operations."

Writer Jason Leopold reports that Hamel successfully uncovered major spills of oil-laced "drilling mud" on the North Slope by BP and Nabors Alaska Drilling as recently as December 2004. One of these involved the intentional injection of 2,000 gallons of drilling fluids beneath the ice to avoid the cost of proper disposal. Another was a "gusher" of fluids that shot 85 feet into the air and sprayed across the tundra.

The companies failed to report these spills, itself a violation of the law. Even worse, in most of these cases, state and federal officials let the oil companies off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

“I am going to throw a hiccup into the ANWR legislation,” Hamel said. “Until these oil companies clean up their act they can’t drill in ANWR because they are spilling oil in the North Slope.”

(NOTE: Hamel formerly ran the website, which appears to be defunct now and has no relation to this blog.)

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