Thursday, January 13, 2011

Trans-Alaska Pipeline to shut down again for bypass tie-in

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Following an oil leak that was discovered at Pump Station 1 at Prudhoe Bay on Jan. 8, the trans Alaska pipeline system (TAPS) was restarted at reduced pressure on Jan. 11.

At noon on Jan. 12, the oil flow through the TAPS line was running at 400,000 b/d. Producers were supplying anywhere from 330,000 to 350,000 b/d (roughly half the typical flow from North Slope production), and the remaining crude was coming from Pump Station 1 storage tanks.

Prior to the leak, TAPS was transporting 630,000 b/d from Alaska's North Slope. That is down considerably from the two million b/d the line transported at peak.

The amount of leaking oil worsened when the pipeline was restarted. More than 2,300 gallons of oil flowed into an 800-gallon containment tank between 8 p.m. Jan. 11 and 4 p.m. Jan. 12, and vacuum trucks were continuously removing it, said Stefani Bell of Alyeska Pipeline Co. The amount is about half of what has leaked from the broken pipe so far.

Personnel were able to keep the overflow to just an inch deep in the five-foot tank.

Crews are performing various tasks to mitigate risks associated with having the pipeline shut during the cold Alaskan winter.

Two pipeline cleaning pigs, likely to have posed a problem had they been left in the cold line, have been located within the system, and are expected to be extracted mid-day on Jan. 13.

Additionally, personnel are working to prevent the buildup of wax and ice in the pipeline by restoring the oil flow.

About 100 people are working in Fairbanks to fabricate 157 feet of steel pipeline, 24 inches in diameter, that will be transported by aircraft to Prudhoe Bay in nine separate pieces, Alyeska said on Jan. 10. The new pipe will be reassembled and installed underground to replace the section of damaged pipe that is a critical feeder of oil into the system's Pump Station 1, the first of a series of stations with mechanical pumps that propel the oil through the pipeline.

The pipeline will again be shut down on Jan. 14 to prepare for the tie-in of the pipeline bypass.

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