From: Reuters, ANCHORAGE, Alaska
Published January 9, 2011 08:18 AM

Alaska pipeline shut down after leak discovered

The Trans Alaska Pipeline shut down on Saturday after a leak was discovered at the intake pump station at Prudhoe Bay, constricting supply in one of the United States' key oil arteries.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the operator of the 800-mile (1,280 kilometre) line which runs from the Prudhoe Bay oilfield to the tanker port of Valdez, said the leak was discovered Saturday morning. Oil producers are in the process of cutting output to 5 percent of the normal rate of around 630,000 barrels per day.

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There is no estimate yet of how long the pipeline -- which carries about 12 percent of U.S. oil production -- will be shut down or when normal production can resume, said Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan.

So far, shipments from the port of Valdez, the terminus of the pipeline, are unaffected and tankers are being loaded on schedule. Oil produced during the shutdown will be stored at Prudhoe Bay until the pipeline reopens.

There is no estimate of how much oil leaked, but Alyeska said no oil has been found to have escaped beyond concrete encasing the pipeline.

"The concrete encasement is why we don't believe there's any environmental impact," said Egan. "Until we can excavate, we won't be able to say that definitely."

Alyeska is owned by oil companies with interests on Alaska's North Slope, the third-largest U.S. oil producing region after the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. Major owners in the region are BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

BP, which operates the Prudhoe Bay field, has started the process of reducing production, said company spokesman Steve Rinehart.

"I can't give you an estimate of how long it will take to get down to 5 percent, but we are working quickly and safely to do that," he said. Tasks include freeze-protecting lines and facilities, he said.

The leak was discovered in the basement of a building that holds booster pumps for Pump Station 1, the intake station for the oil artery, Egan said. The booster pumps are housed in a building separate from the main pump building, and the leak appears to be in a concrete-encased pipeline on the exterior, she said.

Photo shows a mooring station for oil tankers at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Marine Terminal in Valdez, Alaska on August 8, 2008. Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE7080H820110109

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