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Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Reduce Pumping Operations

From Reuters

With the giant Prudhoe Bay oil field past its production peak, the operator of the Trans-Alaska pipeline says some operations may soon have to shut down to accommodate a smaller oil flow.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. plans in the next two to three years to start closing some of the 12 pump stations along the 800-mile line that delivers a quarter of the nation’s domestically produced oil, said Marnie Isaacs, spokeswoman for the consortium.

“Alyeska has a retirement schedule that will look at starting to take out some pump stations over the next two to three years,” Isaacs said. “Alyeska is looking at our long-term retirement plan.”

But the pump stations would be kept in a “warm” shutdown--ready to be reactivated should drilling begin in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or elsewhere on the North Slope, Isaacs said.

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The pipeline is 14 years into what was originally expected to be a 30-year life.

Volume, which peaked in 1988 at about 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, is down to about 1.8 million barrels a day, Alyeska and state officials said.

Unless Congress allows oil production on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the pipeline will have to shut down by 2010, say state officials who favor the controversial development.

State Sen. Drue Pearce (R-Anchorage) told a congressional subcommittee in Anchorage last week that the pipeline operations will become financially unfeasible when daily volume dwindles below 300,000 barrels.

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By the year 2000, pipeline volume will drop below 1 million barrels a day, even if full production at the new Point McIntyre and Niakuk fields comes on line as planned in about 1994, Pearce said.

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. owns Niakuk. BP, Arco and Exxon--the main owners of Alyeska--are partners in Point McIntyre.

But if production starts in the wildlife refuge or a huge new oil field is tapped elsewhere on the North Slope, the pipeline can gear up to deliver oil indefinitely, Isaacs said.

“The pipeline can operate as long as it’s needed, with proper maintenance,” she said. “There is an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of the operational capacity of the line.”

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The maintenance includes a five-year, $600-million to $800-million project to repair corroded sections of the line and oil storage tanks at the Valdez marine terminal.

Alyeska, midway into the project, expects later this month to complete $100-million worth of repairs on what appears to be the longest corroded stretch, an 8.5-mile area at Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range, Isaacs said.

Some officials said the amount of corrosion detected by tests in 1989 and 1990 far exceeded the total corrosion expected over the pipeline’s entire life.

To environmentalists, the pipeline corrosion and a recent General Accounting Office report that criticized government oversight of the line as lax is proof that North Slope oil production is more costly than the industry tells the public.

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