BP gives $1 million for UAA lab to study metals corrosion

Mike Dunham

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. announced Monday that it was donating $1 million to the University of Alaska Anchorage to help create a lab to study the effects of corrosion on pipe metals.

The gift will pay for the entire BP Asset Integrity and Corrosion Lab, according to Matt Cullin, who will be the director of the new facility. The money will also help cover some of the first year's operational expenses.

"It's a really quite a nice gift," said Cullin, a UAA assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

The relatively low cost for the lab, less than $1 million, is due to its location in a building that already exists, the Engineering Building. It will be installed in space vacated by the school's anatomy lab, which has moved to new quarters.

"It's already set up as a laboratory," Cullin said. "That's saving us a ton of money."

A statement from UAA said the lab will be the first of its kind in Alaska. It will train engineering students and make it possible for the university to do more corrosion research, testing and training.

Knowing more about corrosion and how to prevent it is highly important to Alaska, said Tom Barrett, the president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Addressing a conference of corrosion engineers at the Hotel Captain Cook on Monday, where the gift was announced, Barrett said at the present time, "Keeping up with corrosion technology means getting on a plane and going down to Houston."

Barrett, a retired Coast Guard admiral and deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation in the Bush and Obama administrations, called corrosion "a creeping disease" and a "constant threat" to the 35-year old-pipeline that carries the oil on which Alaska's economy is largely dependent.

Keeping the aging pipeline incident-free is a major priority, Barrett said. "The public perception is that there is no room for failure," he said. "The worst thing that can happen is for oil to spill into Prince William Sound. That makes the job of corrosion management critical."

A "pinhole leak" due to corrosion in a difficult-to-inspect section of pipe shut down operations for four days in January of 2011. Each day cost the state $18.5 million, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Criminal convictions of BP have forced the company to adopt new environmental and anticorrosion policies for its aging North Slope infrastructure. Its failed corrosion efforts came in for harsh criticism by Congress in 2006.

Barrett expressed hope that the new lab would help catch leaks before they happen. "There are eight or 10 different ways corrosion operates," he told the conventioneers. "Multiple mechanisms can cause it and they are not well understood."

Cullin said the new lab would have the ability to experiment with corrosion caused by carbon dioxide, a particularly prominent problem on Alaska's North Slope.

"We'll be able to measure corrosion rates and test inhibitor effectiveness right here in Alaska," he said.

Such tests are largely performed out of state now, Cullin said.

Work on the lab will begin this spring. UAA expects it to open in the fall.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

Anchorage Daily News