Trans-Alaska oil pipeline to restart interim flows

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BestGrowthStock) – Operators of Alaska’s main oil pipeline are working to resume flow on receiving government permission for a temporary restart after a leak idled 12 percent of U.S. crude output.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline System, the 800-mile (1,280 kilometer) pipe that usually carries 630,000 barrels of oil per day, has been closed since Saturday following a small leak at an oil pumping station. The restart will prevent crude from freezing while a bypass of the leak is complete.

The shutdown, which started at 8:50 a.m., has been one of the longest yet for the pipeline, a statement issued by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., state and federal agencies said. Duct operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co on Tuesday afternoon received approval to restart “interim operations,” said company spokeswoman Katie Pesznecker.

Pesznecker added that an estimate for flow volumes would only be available on Wednesday morning.

With the temporary restart, Alyeska is seeking to prevent oil in the pipeline from freezing, which would make a resumption of normal flows more difficult. The bypass is expected to be completed this week, though there was no exact timetable.

“This temporary startup would be a prudent and necessary measure to manage the potential risks associated with an extended cold-weather shutdown,” according to a statement from Alyeska.

Officials dealing with the incident said if wax or ice buildup damages the system, it could shut down the pipeline for a more extended period of time and affect other North Slope facilities. The restart will also allow North Slope producers to increase production, the combined statement said.

The line will have to shut down again while the bypass piping is installed at Pump Station 1, officials said.

Companies have been drawing down inventories at the Valdez export terminal, which was holding about 2.38 million barrels of oil as of Monday, to keep shipments going to refiners.

The estimated volume of oil leaked was 29 barrels (1,200 gallons) as of Tuesday morning, according to the statement. Crews are installing an 800-gallon containment vault for oil recovery from the leak site in the booster pump basement.

The shutdown continued to help drive up U.S. oil prices, which rose 2 percent to top $91 a barrel on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Brent crude was trading at a 27-month high near $98 on expectations that an extended outage would draw supplies from the Middle East and Asia-Pacific markets toward the U.S. West Coast, the usual destination for Alaskan crude.

Alaska is continuing to ship normal volumes of crude and the Valdez terminal has seen stocks fall by 7 percent since Sunday, when its tanks held 2.57 million barrels.

The pipeline is usually able to restart quickly, even after a spill. Last May, when several thousand barrels of oil spilled into a pump station, the line was shut down for less than four days.

Crews were working to drain a leaky discharge pipe, seal it off and install a 157-foot bypass line, the DEC said. Alyeska has chartered aircraft to deliver needed parts and equipment to the North Slope.

Alyeska is owned by the companies that operate on Alaska’s North Slope — BP owns about 47 percent of the venture, while ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil hold 28 percent and 20 percent respectively.

The shutdown of Alaska’s main oil pipeline poses only a minor threat to U.S. crude supplies, but any snag delaying its restart could send West Coast refiners scrambling for substitute crude and drive up prices.