Alaskan pipeline restarts

Pat Pourchot, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said the pipeline’s operator finished its safety check for damage from the magnitude 7.9 earthquake to the 1280-km long pipeline.

About 1MMbrl/d is normally transmitted through the pipeline, including about 300,000brl/d for BP and 360,000brl/d for ConocoPhillips Corp, the major producers on Alaska’s North Slope. After the shutdown of the pipeline, the North Slope producers cut their output to 5%or less of capacity; however, the startup came soon enough that no North Slope wells had to be shut-in for lack of storage space for crude oil. Generally speaking, it takes four to six hours to make the pipeline operational. After that it takes 24 hours for oil loading to begin at the Valdez terminal. Enough storage space was available to allow production to return to normal after the line restarted, although arrangements had been made for additional storage in the Fairbanks area, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co, the consortium that operates the line, also used the northern portion of pipeline itself for storage. The major owners of Alyeska are BP, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil; Unocal and Amerada Hess hold minor shares.

The earthquake caused pieces of some pipeline vertical supports to fall off. But Pourchot is quoted to have said that the damage – sheared support shoes and cross-beams – proved that the pipeline’s earthquake-safety features performed as intended. “The fact that they broke was part of the design,” he said. “Those parts of the vertical supports were designed to break free, if needed, so that the pipeline would be able to move in response to an earthquake,” he said.

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