Alaska Pipeline Leak Shuts Production

Monday, January 10, 2011 @ 12:01 PM gHale

Pipeline safety continues to come to the forefront as officials in Alaska don’t know when the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. would resume sending oil through an 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

Alyeska cut the flow of oil to the pipeline Saturday after workers found a leak on a secondary line and crews were working on how to safely get oil flowing again.

Alyeska workers found the leak inside a building near Pump Station 1 on the North Slope and cut production to a minimal level. The building houses booster pumps, which raise and regulate the pressure of crude oil from storage tanks before it gets into the main pipeline, Alyeska and state officials said.

Officials recovered 400 gallons of oil from the building’s basement, Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan said. Alyeska said it won’t know the extent of the spill until it excavates the damaged pipe.

Alyeska crews were developing a plan to disconnect and seal the damaged piping and install a bypass line to carry oil to the main pipeline, officials said.

BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil have cut oil production from the Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska by 95 percent while the pipeline undergoes repairs.

There is no official restart date yet for the pipeline, however, January 14 is one date earmarked.

Cold weather is complicating efforts, state and company officials said, expressing concern about ice forming in the pipeline, which could cause problems when the oil begins flowing again.

“It is extremely important to us when the pipeline gets shut down,” said Tom DeRuyter of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “There is always the chance there may be a secondary release (of oil). We are going to be watching start-up and the repair plans very, very closely, and also the assessment of the area around the booster pump building.”

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