Alaska Pipeline Shutting Down Again

Thursday, January 13, 2011 @ 09:01 AM gHale

After a quick temporary restart, the Trans Alaska Pipeline will shut down for a day and a half starting Friday or this weekend so officials can install a new pipe segment ahead of a full restart.

The shut-down and installation should take about 36 hours, according to a report from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the operator, and state and federal regulators.

If all goes according to plan, the pipeline would be shut Friday for the repairs and be in a position to restart again by Sunday, according to estimates by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Final deliveries of supplies to Prudhoe Bay for construction of the new pipeline segment were coming in late Wednesday, the agency said.

The frigid Arctic weather and constant risk of ice forming inside the line have lent urgency to the repair of the 800-mile pipeline system, which shut down for four days then restarted at reduced levels late Tuesday to prevent crude oil inside from freezing.

Alyeska shut down the pipeline system early Saturday after discovering that a critical section of pipe was leaking. Alyeska asked North Slope producers to cut production by 95%, or about 600,000 barrels of oil a day. While a crew in Fairbanks builds a new segment of pipe to replace the damaged one, Alyeska is temporarily sending crude through the pipeline to ensure the pipes and oil in the system don’t freeze and to draw down oil that has been filling up storage tanks on the North Slope.

Cleanup crews have been collecting oil that is still leaking from the damaged pipeline into the basement of a pumping station, and removing it by vacuum truck.

BP, the North Slope’s largest oil producer, increased production from 5%, but not to normal levels, said BP spokesman Steve Rinehart. The company will wait until the repairs and final restart are complete, he said.

Alyeska and government regulators are watching closely for any accumulation of ice or buildup of waxy crude inside the pipeline while shut down, said Mike Thompson, state pipeline coordinator at Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources.

Ice and excessive amounts of waxy oil that can form in the line amid below-zero temperatures could damage pumps, screens and other equipment and delay the repair and restart operation, Thompson said. It could be days before authorities know whether crude flowing through the pipe is in good shape, or whether chunks of ice and waxy buildup pose a threat, he said.

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