House Committee: Alaska Pipeline Company Ran Amok, Overhaul Needed
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ The trans-Alaska pipeline’s operators and a security company tried to block an investigation of the pipeline’s environmental and safety record and should be prosecuted, according to a congressional report released Thursday.
The draft report by the House Interior Committee recommends that the Justice Department consider charging the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and the Wackenhut Corp. with obstruction of justice, surreptitious recording, and mail and wire fraud.
″The evidence demonstrates that Alyeska and Wackenhut attempted to obstruct the Interior Committee’s longstanding investigation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and environmental problems associated with Alyeska’s operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline,″ Rep. George Miller, who heads the Interior committee, said in a statement.
According to the report, the companies tried to discredit and stop the committee’s inquiry ″by withholding and possibly destroying and altering key documents and records″ of surveillance it had conducted on oil industry critics.
Alyeska and Wackenhut have acknowledged spying on critics and have said that isn’t illegal.
Officials of Wackenhut, the nation’s third-largest security company, said Thursday they hadn’t seen the report and weren’t prepared to comment.
Alyeska attorney Robert Jordan said the company was innocent.
″It’s just not so. It’s not supported by the record,″ he said from Washington, D.C. ″We don’t think Alyeska or any of its employees broke the law.″
Alyeska spokeswoman Marnie Isaacs called the report’s release ″political theater ... orchestrated by the committee.″
″It’s been a biased and selective process from the beginning,″ she said of the investigation.
Isaacs also said Alyeska expects several people and groups will file lawsuits charging the company with invasion of privacy.
The report, released to the media along with more than 2,000 pages of supporting documents, is scheduled for a vote before the full committee on Wednesday.
Anchorage-based Alyeska is a consortium of seven oil companies - British Petroleum, Exxon, Arco, Mobil, Amarada Hess, Unocal and Phillips - that operates the pipeline system from the North Slope to Valdez.
Alyeska hired Wackenhut, based in Coral Gables, Fla., in 1990 to spy on longtime oil industry critic Charles Hamel of Alexandria, Va., a former oil broker. Since the mid-1980s Hamel has fed leaked documents on safety and environmental concerns to Miller, the media and federal regulators.
Miller, who heads the House Interior Committee, has been investigating Alyeska since shortly after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In March 1990, Wackenhut investigators set up a phony environmental front group called Ecolit, watched Hamel’s home, picked through his trash, and obtained personal credit, banking and long-distance telephone records, according to sworn affidavits and testimony before Miller’s committee.
When he found out, Hamel told Miller, and the California Democrat ordered the investigation that resulted in Thursday’s report.
Wackenhut agents also discussed targeting Miller with electronic surveillance in a ″sting″ to trap Miller and Hamel talking in a hotel room, hoping to have both indicted for alleged solicitation of ″stolen″ Alyeska documents, according to the report. But such a meeting never took place.
After reviewing the report Thursday, Hamel said: ″The reccomendations of this report hopefully will put people like me out of business, and Alyeska owners will see to it that Alyeska will work with their personnel to do right and stop creating whistleblowers.″
The report makes several recommendations. Among them:
- Federal regulation of the 800-mile Alaska pipeline be overhauled and improved.
- Alyeska’s owner companies tighten their control over management, especially on environmental matters.
- Alyeska owners conduct a full internal audit of the pipeline and their tanker fleets to remedy environmental or safety problems.
- State and federal regulatory agencies review Alyeska’s safety and environmental record since the pipeline first began pumping oil from the North Slope to Valdez in June 1977.
- The secretary of Interior and other federal authorities amend the 1973 pipeline authorization act to tighten management and oversight of Alyeska.