This past Saturday a leak was discovered close to Prudhoe Bay in the Trans Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline was quickly shutdown. The leak has forced production to be scaled back until the leak is repaired. The pipeline is a key artery for the United States carrying approximately 10 t0 12 per cent of the needed oil for the U.S. It is widely known that BP owns the pipeline and has come under scrutiny for its safety practices and lack of monitoring. This is another setback for BP.
The pipeline runs from Prudhoe Bay down to Valdez, Alaska for a total of 800 miles. Fortunately, there is excess oil stored in Valdez and for this reason the oil that is loaded onto barges in Valdez is still running on time. During the shutdown all the oil produced in Prudhoe Bay will have to be stored there.
Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. operates the pipeline. After the discovery of the leak on Saturday morning it was decided to shut down the pipeline. There is no word yet on how much oil has leaked out. However, they did state that the leak was located at the intake pump station in Prudhoe Bay. The pipeline is encased in concrete and thus far the oil is reported to not have leaked outside of the casing. A spokesperson for Alyeska is reported to have said that they don’t believe there has been an impact to the environment. This will make the clean up easier and less painful for BP who owns 47 per cent of the oil producing region.
The last time the pipeline was shut down was this past May when approximately 200,000 gallons leaked due to a power mal-function. This particular spill was one of the largest for the pipeline but was completely cleaned up according to sources.
The biggest threat to a shut down in winter is the freezing of the oil. Ice can form making it problematic to restart the pipeline. Currently, officials are considering a temporary restart of the pipeline. If the pipeline is started and oil is flowing then freezing would not occur. Operators of the pipeline have a bypass already in place. The oil could go through the bypass and heat up the pipeline to avoid the complications with freezing. However, approval is needed for the temporary restart and has not yet been received.
The shutdown is costing the state of Alaska $18 million dollars per day in lost royalties and taxes. The pipeline is a major source of income for the state of Alaska. Alaskans are awaiting good news from the operators.
Bill Rigby, http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110109/ts_nm/us_oil_pipeline_alaska, Yahoo! News
Lisa Dermer, http://www.adn.com/2011/01/11/1643546/temporary-pipeline-restart-under.html, adn.com