Leaks shut down key Alaska oil pipeline, halt production

The Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 10, 2011 

ANCHORAGE — The shutdown of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline continued for a second day Sunday as engineers and regulators worked on how to safely get oil flowing again in the dead of winter.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. cut the flow of oil to the main pipeline Saturday morning after workers discovered a leak on a secondary line. Alyeska, which operates the line and its pump stations, directed oil field operators to cut production to a minimal level.

The leak was found inside a building near Pump Station 1 on Alaska's North Slope. The building houses booster pumps, which raise and regulate the pressure of crude oil from storage tanks before it gets into the main pipeline. The booster pumps are critical to operation of the main line, Alyeska and state officials say.

Officials had no estimate on when North Slope production would resume.

On Sunday evening, Alyeska was working on a plan to disconnect and seal off the area of damaged piping and install a bypass line to carry oil to the main pipeline, according to a state Department of Environment Conservation situation report.

So far 9 to 10 barrels of spilled oil -- around 400 gallons -- have been recovered from the building's basement, said Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan. The oily mess was one-half to an inch deep on the 30-by-40-foot basement floor. Most of that oil was sucked up by vacuum trucks. It will be injected back into the pipeline.

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