Energy Dept. Ready to Tap Emergency Oil

BP’s Largest Oil Field Shut Down – 400,000 Barrels Per Day

By H. JOSEF HEBERTAssociated Press Writer
WASHINGTON

Source: Alaska Forum

The Energy Department is prepared to provide oil from the government’s emergency supplies if a refinery requests it because of the disruption of supplies from Alaska, a department spokesman said Monday.

Oil transit pipelines, including the one that led to a partial shutdown of the country’s largest oil field, would have to be regularly cleaned and checked for thin spots and leaks under a federal proposal issued Thursday.

The “low-stress” lines in rural areas are largely unregulated.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been working on a plan for several years to regulate the low-pressure lines. The agency sped up the process after two Prudhoe Bay transit lines leaked in March and August, said PHMSA Administrator Thomas Barrett.

“Quite frankly, the type of problem you have seen at Prudhoe Bay with BP on these low stress lines, we have not seen replicated elsewhere in the country,” Barrett said Thursday during a teleconference with reporters.

Barrett said the problems at Prudhoe Bay indicated that BP had not exercised the standard of care usually seen in the industry.

Steve Rinehart, a spokesman for BP Alaska, said the company had not yet seen the proposed requirements for low-stress lines and therefore could not comment except to say it knew DOT was working on new regulations.

The March leak resulted in a spill of up to 267,000 gallons, the largest in the history of oil production on Alaska’s North Slope. The more recent spill Aug. 6 led to the shutdown of half the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Both spills are being blamed on corrosion.

Days after the partial shutdown, the agency ordered BP to conduct more rigorous tests on its transit pipelines, which carry market-ready oil to the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. DOT engineers have been at the site since Aug. 8.

BP has said it will replace 16 of 22 miles of transit lines at Prudhoe Bay.

Since then, the federal pipeline agency has ordered BP to improve its corrosion protection management at Prudhoe. An amended order issued in July directed BP to improve and speed up preparations to test the lines.

Prudhoe Bay, which normally produces about 400,000 barrels of oil, remained at half-production Thursday.

Prior to the spills the company “had a rigorous corrosion management program, which had been thoroughly reviewed by independent experts and state environmental authorities,” Rinehart said. The company now is trying to do everything it can to get to the bottom of the problem, he said.

The proposal, subject to a 60-day public comment period, would cover more than 1,200 miles of pipelines in the country. It would require pipeline operators to regularly monitor the low-stress lines in “unusually sensitive areas.” The agency defines those areas as non-populated areas where drinking water or endangered species, or other ecological resources, need extra protection.

Under the proposal, pipeline operators would have to develop approved plans to regularly clean and check the integrity of the lines. The lines would have to be “smart-pigged” at a minimum of once every five years. A smart pig is an ultrasound device that is run through the lines to check for areas where the pipeline wall is thin.

Pipeline operators also would have to bring the low-stress lines into their corrosion control programs, requiring “continuous monitoring and cleaning” with a scraper pig to remove scale and sediment from the lines.

Under the new requirements, lines would have to be cleaned and scraped as every few weeks or months, Barrett said.

For the rest of the story http://www.alaskaforum.org/2006%20News%20Stories%20Sorted%20by%20Month/august_2006_news_stories.htm

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