The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Trans-Alaska Pipeline Update

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted January 13, 2011

With the approval of federal and state regulators, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) has been restarted at a reduced rate of flow. Rather than transporting about 640,000 barrels of oil a day from Prudhoe Bay to the port at Valdez, Alaska, the pipeline is moving about 400,000 barrels per day. At Valdez, the oil flows into storage tanks for loading onto tankers bound for West Coast refineries.

Although the secondary pipe in the basement of Pump Station 1 continues to leak and the new bypass piping has not been completed, government and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. officials agreed that operations along the massive, 800-mile pipeline should be resumed. By turning on the pumps along the pipeline's route, the oil in the pipeline is warmed and concerns about icing can be addressed. At Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the high temperature today is expected to be -12 degrees F.

"The interim restart is an important and necessary step to restoring operations, while managing the risks of severe damage to the TAPS system that an extended winter shutdown posed," said Alyeska President Thomas Barrett in a statement. (Bloomberg)

Restarting the pipeline also will aid the removal of a pig that has become stuck in the icy pipeline. Not to be confused with a farm animal, a pig is a cylindrical mechanical device, often equipped with highly sophisticated sensor technology, that travels through a pipeline to clean and inspect it. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the got stuck on Saturday when it encountered icing. It is to be removed at Pump Station 8.

The pipeline will be shut down for about 36 hours Friday and into the weekend to install the 157-foot bypass piping. About 450 workers have responded to the incident and are working around the clock. According to the Unified Command's last update, 29 barrels of oil have leaked into the basement of Pump Station 1 and vaccum trucks are removing it.

News of the pipeline shutdown, Labor Department figures showing increasing jobless claims, and wintry weather put upward pressure on global oil prices yesterday. The price of oil closed at $91.86 yesterday, which was the highest settlement price since Oct. 3, 2008.