Both the Alaska state house and senate have introduced bills that would hold companies financially responsible for any oil and gas facility maintenance related to neglect. A spokesman for BP PLC, Anchorage, says the company, which operates the Prudhoe Bay transit pipeline system, is reviewing the implications of the bills. The legislation and the replacement work come on the heels of a massive shutdown of BP's Alaska oil fields last August over concerns about corroded transit lines.

Workers scrambled in March 2006 to clean 201,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from BP's corroded pipeline system.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart says the cost for replacing much of its North Slope pipeline network is being refined as project engineering and procurement proceed. "If we were estimating $150 million-$200 million last year, the price is not going down. How far up it goes is evolving," he says. Rinehart declines to give a new estimate for the work.

The timeline for replacing 16 out of 22 miles of pipeline has also expanded. The new completion date is the first half of 2008, at least six months later than initial estimates. "When project managers got together, they realized a lot of work would be constrained by construction on the North Slope and they¹d need two winter seasons to get the job done," says Mike Thompson, state pipeline coordinator for Alaska's Joint Pipeline Office. The office acts as a coordinator among state and federal permitting agencies and industry.

Access to the transit lines by roads on environmentally sensitive tundra is limited to the coldest months of winter. A new leak-detection system that BP is developing with oversight from Alaska¹s Dept. of Environmental Conservation is taking longer than expected to design and build.

BP has divided reconstruction into four segments, and this winter it's rebuilding about eight miles of new pipeline, or two of the four segments. The first is the 3.1-mile line that leaked an estimated 201,000 gallons of oil last March. The company will replace a 34-in.-dia pipe with a 20-in. line. BP is also working on replacing a 4.9-mile segment of 34-in.-dia pipeline with an 18-in. pipe on Prudhoe Bay¹s eastern side.

The rest of the project, essentially a mirror image of construction now taking place, will occur next winter. Rinehart characterizes the work as building an entirely new system and replacing large pipes with smaller ones reflecting the reduced quantity of oil coming out of the ground. "This will size the system for the next some number of decades. We're not taking out old pipes and putting in new pipes so much as we've decided we're going to be there for a good long time, so let's build a new line," he says. BP's main contractor for the repair and construction work is ASRC Energy Services, a division of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Barrow, Alaska.

Lois Epstein, Anchorage-based environmental activist and member of the federal government's Pipeline Safety Oil Advisory Committee is bothered by the construction's increasing timeline. "The federal government has given a number of approvals contingent on things being done in a particular manner and with particular timing, and the fact that the time has been extended is of concern because things have been allowed to go forward," she says.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation Dept.'s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates major sections of the pipeline network, did not return calls for comment on the matter.