BP has once again been accused of serious safety breaches after a fire broke out at its Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska.

On August 6 a fire took hold at one of three so-called gathering centres within BP’s Prudhoe Bay operations. According to a letter sent to a congressional committee by long-term oil industry critic Chuck Hamel, BP failed to notice that a key back-up fire and gas emergency system was broken.

In the letter he says: “BP dodged a catastrophe and its personnel were fortunately spared.”

Oil from BP wells is pumped into the gathering centre where it is processed to separate the oil from water and gas. Two weeks ago, an oil line within the centre burst, spraying oil. Fumes from the oil were ignited by a turbine’s hot exhaust.

At the time, BP said that the fire suppression system had failed to work when fire broke out because it had been temporarily switched off so that routine monitoring of corrosion could take place.

Congress is investigating BP’s safety procedures after an important pipeline in Alaska sprang a leak in March 2006 causing a 200,000-gallon oil spill.