March 2006 News Stories

 

 

US Fed News
March 24, 2006

 

REP. DINGELL WRITES TO BP EXPLORATION (ALASKA) PRESIDENT REGARDING NORTH SLOPE OIL SPILL, OIL SUPPLY PIPELINE INSPECTION METHODS
24 March 2006
US Fed News

WASHINGTON, March 24 -- Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, issued the text of the following letter:

Mr. Steve Marshall President BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. 900 East Benson Blvd. Anchorage, Alaska 99508

Dear Mr. Marshall:
Thank you for meeting with our staffs last week to discuss the North Slope oil spill currently being addressed by cleanup crews. It is our understanding that at least 200,000 gallons of crude have leaked so far from a major supply line, which ultimately delivers product to the Trans Alaskan Pipeline. This is now, unfortunately, the largest spill ever to occur on the North Slope, and one of the largest in Alaskan history. We understand that the failed line is currently being operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. (BP).

We are informed that, although company officials are still examining the root causes of the spill, the existing leak detection system failed to discover the leak. We also understand that the leading explanation appears to be corrosion and that this occurred in an area where the line dips underground at what is commonly called a "caribou crossing." While it is still unclear what caused the corrosion, we do understand that BP believes its onset was quite rapid and may have developed in as little as six months. Further, we are informed - through our staff's discussion with you and your staff - that this particular line had been tested using ultrasonic methods within the past six months, and that BP believes that the last period of testing found that the thickness of the areas of the pipe's walls that were tested were found to be within tolerance.

While we applaud such testing, we still remain unclear where such tests were taken and whether such tests were made on the section that ultimately failed. Moreover, we are unclear whether any of the spot testing associated with ultrasonic testing can or should be seen as representative of the entire line's condition. This is particularly important as we understand that this line had not been examined with a "smart pig" since 1998 - a process in which corrosion or other anomalies can be more thoroughly detected. In fact, we are still trying to understand the frequency at which this line was pigged (either via "maintenance pig" or "smart pig") and we look forward to receiving information that details both the frequency and method(s) used to examine this line. It is our understanding that such information will be made available to us soon.

We recently received correspondence that raised some concerns about BP inspection methods, particularly those relating to corrosion matters. We therefore have several questions that we would ask you to respond to in order for us to better understand what specifically failed and what lessons have been learned to avoid future spills. As some of our questions may pertain to the upcoming reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, we ask that you respond to the attached questions by no later than Monday, April 3, 2006.

We appreciate your cooperation and assistance in these matters of energy transport, security, and safety. If you need further information regarding this request, please contact us or our staff, Mr. Christopher Knauer with the Committee on Energy and Commerce Democratic staff at (202) 226-3400, or Mr. Jeff Petrich with the Committee on Resources Democratic staff at (202) 225-6065.

Sincerely,
JOHN D. DINGELL RANKING MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE GEORGE MILLER MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
Attachment
cc: The Honorable Joe Barton, Chairman Committee on Energy and CommerceMr. Brigham McCown, Acting Administrator Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration U.S. Department of Transportation


Questions for Steve Marshall, President BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

1. Please provide a detailed schedule of all corrosion testing for the entire Oil Transit Line (OTL). For this effort, please delineate the type of testing used (e.g. visual, smart pigging, ultrasonic spot, etc.). Please also indicate where specifically any testing occurred.

2. Please indicate whether BP had any specific warning(s) that the OTL faced significant corrosion issues from within the company or through outside engineers or consultants. If so, did any reports or consultations predict problems in the low-lying caribou crossings? If so, please describe those reports or consultations.

3. If the OTL had not been smart pigged since 1998 (as reports claim), please indicate why it was not deemed prudent by BP to apply technology with greater frequency to such a strategic line.

4. Please specify where ultrasonic tests were taken on the failed line prior to the leak, and where those tests were taken relative to the failed section. In particular, was the failed section tested prior to the leak? If not, why not? Also, does BP believe that a test measuring tolerances in one section of the OTL to be representative of tolerances for the entire line? Please explain.

5. It has been reported to us that the line in question, while having a low water cut, also has a very low flow rate and that this essentially makes the OTL a giant "oil-water separator." We are advised that results in the settlement of solids in the underlying layer of stagnant water. Is this the case? If so, what are or were the implications of this?

6. Were significant amounts of solids known to be present in the bottom of the line prior to the leak, particularly at the caribou crossings where the pipeline dips? Have significant amounts of sludge been found at the caribou crossings since examining the pipeline post leak? If solids were known, what concern(s) would this pose to the line? Also, if solids were deemed a concern, would a maintenance pig have been able to remove them and by removing them, would this in any way have made the line less likely to fail?

7. Please explain why the leak detection system on the OTL line failed to detect the leak and what changes will be made to leak detection systems on this and all of the BP North Slope lines.


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Anchorage Daily News
March 24, 2006

Governor to visit Prudhoe spill site
FUTURE RISKS: Corrosion in the pipeline will be focus of discussions.
By MATT VOLZ
The Associated Press
Published: March 24, 2006
Last Modified: March 24, 2006 at 03:08 AM

JUNEAU -- Gov. Frank Murkowski will travel to the North Slope today to meet with state, federal and oil industry officials for an overview on this month's spill in Prudhoe Bay.

For five days or more, a transit line operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. located upstream of the 800-mile-long main pipeline leaked up to 267,000 gallons of crude from a small hole onto the tundra.

BP officials say the leak was due to corrosion in the transit line.

Murkowski said Thursday he will speak with federal, state and oil industry officials about corrosion risks throughout the aging trans-Alaska pipeline, particularly as heavy oil production is increasing.

"We're going to delve into the issue of what's the potential risk for any big future, I guess, exposure to corrosion and other potential situations associated with aging," Murkowski said.

The trans-Alaska pipeline will be 30 years old next year.

Viscous, or heavy oil, carries more sediments and water than does traditional North Slope crude, which may have been the cause of corrosion in the transit line, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said.

One way BP plans to counter the corrosive effects is to install a different emulsion breaker to better separate the water from the oil, but Beaudo acknowledges there are challenges with the new technology in producing viscous oil.

Beaudo also said not enough corrosion inhibitor was carrying over with the heavy oil and the company will start injecting that inhibitor at a different point.

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San Diego Union
March 22, 2006

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20060321-1902-wst-prudhoespill.html

BP mulls options following federal spill response order
By Rachel D'oro
ASSOCIATED PRESS
7:02 p.m. March 21, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is reviewing a federal order that calls for sweeping changes in response to the record crude oil spill on Alaska's North Slope, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

Among problems noted in the corrective order from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was the "ineffectiveness of the leak detection system to identify the leak" in the Prudhoe Bay transit line.

The five-page document also noted that a post-spill inspection of the 30-year-old pipeline found several flaws, including an area of the 0.375-inch wall worn ultra thin by internal corrosion.

Officials believe crude was leaking for at least five days from a small corrosion hole in the line before the spill was discovered March 2 by a worker who smelled the oil.

Crews are cleaning up the two-acre spill, which is estimated at up to 267,000 gallons. Slowed by bitter cold weather, they have recovered 63,546 gallons - or 1,513 barrels - of crude.

The pipeline safety agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said BP must review the leak detection system on the affected line as well as two other crude transit pipelines in Prudhoe, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The company must make necessary modifications within three months.

BP officials are studying their options on how to proceed, according to company spokesman Daren Beaudo.

"We haven't decided on what action, if any, to take," he said.

The company has until the end of the week to request a hearing on the matter, said James Wiggins, a spokesman for the federal agency.

"It's part of the process available to them," he said. "We've got good reasons for requiring certain things. The pipeline failed."

The order also calls for repairs of six anomalies found in the line after the spill was discovered. The worst flaw was a spot where the wall thickness had worn down to 0.04 of an inch.

Among other measures, BP must run maintenance pigs - electronic equipment put through a pipe to check wall conditions - on the three lines. Since the spill, critics have slammed BP for last running a pig through the ruptured line in 1998.

Officials with the Alaska Department of Conservation said the spill will lead to fines against BP and possibly stricter regulations for such transit lines, which have been subject to little government scrutiny in the past.

The federal agency did not address what BP suspects as a significant factor in the rapid corrosion first found last fall inside the thick arctic-grade carbon-steel pipe, which leads eventually to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Beaudo said the corrosion may be related to the fact the pipeline is increasingly carrying viscous oil, a hard-to-pump heavy crude being tapped as the oil field is drawn down. Separation chemicals used on viscous oil may interfere with corrosion-inhibiting additives that are put in the pipeline, Beaudo said.

"What we believed happened to this line is unique," he said, adding that corrosion inhibitors will now be injected directly into the line once it resumes production.

Under the federal order, BP must submit a corrosion management plan for this line and two other transit lines, which only carry crude and not viscous.

The company already runs an unparalleled job of staying on top of corrosion, said Larry Dietrick, director of spill prevention and response for the state environmental conservation department. This year, BP's corrosion inspection budget for the North Slope is $71 million, up from $50 million spent in 2004.

But any input from the federal pipeline agency is welcome, he said, if it leads to a better system following the largest crude spill ever on the North Slope.

The real issue is to properly identify the cause and properly get a fix on this so it doesn't happen again," he said.

 

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San Diego Union
March 22, 2006

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20060321-1858-wst-exxonvaldezanniversary.html

Pipe corrosion biggest threat as Alaska marks Exxon Valdez spill
By Matt Volz
ASSOCIATED PRESS
6:58 p.m. March 21, 2006

JUNEAU, Alaska  Friday marks 17 years since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound and caused the worst oil spill in the nation's history.

The 11 million gallons of crude oil that oozed from the grounded tanker created a destructive slick that moved across 470 miles of shoreline to the Alaska Peninsula, killing unknown quantities of flora and fauna and causing damage that is still felt today by fishermen and the Alaska Natives who live off the land.

“You can still go and pick up a rock and find what looks like fresh oil,” said John Devens, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council.

Many of the lessons of 1989 have been applied. The oil tankers that ship Alaska's crude to the West Coast have become stronger, most with double hulls and redundant operating systems for safety. Two escort vessels now guide the tankers out of Prince William Sound. More equipment, such as containment boom, are housed nearby to respond if a spill happens again.

“In general, the changes that have occurred in Prince William Sound in terms of oil transport since 1989 have been phenomenal,” said Nancy Bird, president and chief executive of the Prince William Sound Science Center. “I feel much more confident that we would be able respond to an oil spill today.”

But 17 years after the disaster, the potential for danger appears to have shifted onshore. Corrosion in the aging oil supply system is seen by some as a growing threat, as evidenced by this month's North Slope leak, the second-largest spill in the state's history.

A transit line upstream of the main pipeline and operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. for five days or more leaked up to 267,000 gallons of crude from a small hole onto the frozen tundra of Alaska's North Slope.

Transit lines generally have not been subjected to regulations as rigorous as the 800-mile line, though state regulatory officials say that could change because of the spill. State environmental regulators say the spill will lead to fines and possibly stricter pipeline regulations in Alaska, a state that has grown rich on oil since crude began flowing from the North Slope via the pipeline in the 1970s.

The leak in the transit line has caused some observers to worry about the condition of the entire pipeline system.

“I think many of us are seriously concerned about the aging and the deterioration of the pipeline and the facilities” Devens said. “We know that corrosion is becoming a factor.”

The main pipeline, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope to Valdez in Prince William Sound, will be 30 years old in 2007. Less than half the oil is flowing now than at peak production, but the oil industry and state officials figure on at least another 30 years of life out of the pipeline.

Devens said with that kind of expectation, the amount spent on maintaining the pipeline should be increased.

Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates and maintains the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, said his company has all the funding necessary to keep the pipeline running safely. Alyeska has an annual budget of $350,000 for operations and maintenance and another $100,000 for capital projects, he said.

“We are ready to handle oil flow for the next 30 years,” Heatwole said. “We're making the necessary investments to do that.”

Heatwole said he does not know specifically whether the age of the pipeline was causing corrosion.

“Probably the best way to describe it is that we've never had a leak in the main pipe due to corrosion,” he said.

But as the oil fields of the North Slope decline, the quality of oil is also declining, meaning coarser and heavier crude is flowing down the pipe.

This month's North Slope oil spill was caused by corrosion in the transit line, according BP PLC officials.

The corrosion may have been due to the water and sediments that are carried with the viscous oil, said company spokesman Daren Beaudo.

“There are technical challenges with viscous oil and these facilities were created to handle light oil,” Beaudo said. “It's not necessarily the characteristics of the crude oil, it's water. Water is the source of corrosion. You've got to have water in the line to have corrosion.”

BP and other oil producers are asking state lawmakers for tax incentives to develop viscous oil, which is more expensive to develop, is thick as molasses and carries more sediments than typical North Slope crude.

The industry has estimated that in five years, heavy oil could account for 100,000 barrels per day flowing down the pipeline, or about one of every eight barrels of oil in the pipe.

The spill was localized and no damage was seen closer to the pipeline, Beaudo said. But what BP learns from this leak will be applied systemwide, he said.

“We're looking at a 50-year future here,” Beaudo said. “We'll take what we learned about the potential impacts of viscous oil and share it across the field.”

Heatwole said Alyeska was waiting for a detailed report on the cause of the North Slope leak and could not comment on heavy oil being the cause of corrosion.

But as the quality of crude oil changes, it is monitored and periodic analyses are conducted. A scraper called a “cleaning pig” is sent weekly down the length of the pipe, he said.

“We don't have a current concern about the crude oil coming down the line,” Heatwole said.

On the Net:
Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council:
www.pwsrcac.org
Prince William Sound Science Center:
www.pwssc.gen.ak.us
Alyeska Pipeline Co.:
www.alyeska-pipe.com
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council:
www.evostc.state.ak.us

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Anchorage Daily News
March 21, 2006

http://www.adn.com/opinion/story/7551686p-7463271c.html

BP and DEC North Slope oversight:

Not good enough
Oil pipeline spill detection fails to protect North Slope
Published: March 21, 2006
Last Modified: March 21, 2006 at 01:47 AM

Editorial Cartoon
http://www.adn.com/photo/2006/03/21/1883668-300-x-196.jpg

Yes, government and BP officials are investigating the pipeline leak that spilled more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil on the North Slope earlier this month. And yes, we expect they will find not only the exact cause, but also will impose new operating and inspection procedures to help prevent such a leak from fouling the tundra again.

As well-meaning as those responses are, they miss the point that BP did not do a good enough job in leak detection and the state failed to impose tough enough standards to guard against such leaks.

The spill was not detected until a worker happened to smell oil while driving on an access road alongside the pipeline March 2. Good thing the worker didn't have a cold that day, clogging up his sense of smell, or the spill could have been much worse. Bluntly, that is not a level of risk the state should tolerate.

The 34-inch line has a leak detection system that is supposed to sound an alarm if the pipeline flow drops by 1 percent. The line carried 4.2 million gallons a day. That means a leak of anything less than 42,000 gallons a day, or 1,750 gallons an hour, would escape electronic detection. In this accident the alarm never sounded, meaning it either failed to work or the pipe had been leaking at just below 1 percent for at least five days.

But maybe it was leaking 20,000 gallons a day for 10 days? Or 10,000 gallons for 20 days? No one saw the spilled oil because the line is covered -- it's above ground level but covered in gravel so caribou can cross. And the pipe, the gravel berm and ground were all covered in snow, with the oil hiding beneath the snow cover. As the hot oil melted the snow, it sank farther out of sight.

The state four years ago fined BP and ordered the company -- which operates the Prudhoe Bay field -- to install the 1 percent leak-detection system on some of its oil lines. The company had fallen behind schedule installing the system, and the state issued an order in May 2002 to hurry up the work. The state Department of Environmental Conservation the next year recommended BP also regularly patrol the lines to look for leaks. As part of its spill-detection drive-bys and fly-bys, the company reports it sometimes uses infrared equipment to look for the heat of leaking oil.

Too bad but none of that worked quick enough in this month's spill.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has been working the past 18 months to update its spill-prevention regulations, and officials say this latest accident could lead to additional requirements for pipe inspections. That's good, but the proposed regulations still are not in place.

Meanwhile, BP knew the line in this case suffered from corrosion -- in several spots -- and that the corrosion was getting worse. The company this year plans to spend $71 million on corrosion control, up from $50 million in 2004, but this month's accident is more than enough proof that the budget is inadequate.

So what's next? The state could decide to lower the 1 percent threshold for automatic leak-detection systems but BP has already objected to such a change, saying the technology doesn't exist. North Slope Borough officials say otherwise.

The state's message to BP and other North Slope oil companies should be: Find better technology to meet tighter leak-detection standards. Spend more time flying and driving the line with infrared devices. Run a corrosion-detecting module through the line more often. And, if all else fails, get out of the truck and take a whiff.

BOTTOM LINE: Accidents happen, but weeklong pipeline leaks should not happen.

 

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Time Magazine
March 20, 2006

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1174706,00.html

Monday, Mar. 20, 2006
A Crude Warning
The largest oil spill in Alaska's North Slope raises sticky questions about future drilling in the Arctic
By NATHAN THORNBURGH

PHOTO:
http://img.timeinc.net/time/daily/2006/0603/mopping.jpg

At 5:45 on a searingly cold March morning, still 2 1/2 hours before sunrise, a BP worker driving along an empty access road at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field suddenly smelled oil.

On the side of the road, hidden below a field of snow, a massive slick of crude oil had spread over nearly two acres of tundra. An aging pipe, installed during the Ford Administration, had corroded from the inside and oozed oil out of an almond-size hole--a leak that went undetected for at least five days. None of the pipeline's alarms were tripped. In all, 201,000 gal. of crude escaped, making the spill the largest ever to hit Alaska's North Slope.

The accident raises sticky questions about the oil industry in Alaska at an awkward time for the Bush Administration and its supporters in Congress. While the Senate was busy last week passing a largely symbolic budget amendment in support of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to new drilling, Prudhoe Bay was facing the harsh realities of operating the state's existing wells.

The great petroleum reserves of Alaska are slowly but inexorably drying up, along with the profits of the oil companies that operate there. Meanwhile, 30-year-old pipelines that stretch like a giant cobweb over the oil fields of the North Slope, a flat expanse between the majestic Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic shore, need more and costlier maintenance than ever. The new spill puts into sharp relief the same question that has stalemated the ANWR debate since the 1980s: Can oil companies focused on their bottom line be trusted to protect Alaska's fragile environment?

There is no question that Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, is in decline. Production has slumped from a daily average of 1.6 million bbl. in 1988 to just 425,000 bbl. in 2005. To extract whatever oil remains, BP, which operates the field for a consortium of petroleum companies that includes ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil, has been taking measures that may have unintentionally raised the risks. Drilling more wells to further develop Prudhoe just adds to the more than 1,700 miles of pipeline that already crisscross the North Slope, increasing the chance of leaks. And other techniques, such as injecting water into old wells to flush out remaining pockets of oil, can be hard on the pipes. The corrosion behind this month's leak, for example, is thought to have been started by water that got into the pipeline, eating away at the steel.

Even measures taken to protect wildlife can cause problems. The hole that created the new spill was located at one of dozens of caribou-crossing sites, where the pipeline is tucked in a culvert that helped shield the leak from view.

BP says that it increased corrosion-management spending 16% from 2004 to 2005 to meet these challenges. But an alarming Department of Transportation document obtained by the Anchorage Daily News raises questions about BP's diligence in inspecting its pipelines, pointing to no fewer than six other anomalies found on the same 10-mile stretch of pipeline, including a spot where the pipe had corroded so badly it was less than 0.04 in. thick.

Local political leaders are concerned about the oil companies' priorities. "I'd like to see them use the best available technology to prevent major spills like [this one]," says North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta. "That's not happening right now."

In Congress, supporters of the Administration's policies say the country needs ANWR oil to be energy independent and to fight the pinch at the pump, while opponents call it a land grab for Big Oil. Most observers agree, however, that with House Republicans deeply divided on the topic, the Senate's ANWR amendment will probably die the same death it did last year. One Republican staff member called it the Groundhog Day amendment.

Back in Prudhoe Bay, the battle lines are clearer. Braving temperatures as low as 40°F below zero, cleanup crews have contained the spill and are trucking in fresh snow to absorb whatever oil can't be vacuumed up. BP hopes to recover 90% of the lost crude, which it will funnel back into the pipeline and pump to the port of Valdez for sale on the open market.

With reporting by Reported by Wesley Loy/Anchorage
 

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National Geographic
March 20, 2006

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/03/0320_060320_alaska_oil.html

Alaska Oil Spill Fuels Concerns Over
Arctic Wildlife, Future Drilling
John Roach
for National Geographic News
March 20, 2006

A recent spill of about 267,000 gallons (1 million liters) of oil in the tundra of Alaska's North Slope is raising a new round of questions from environmental groups about proposed plans to open more land in the region to oil drilling.

The North Slope region of Alaska (map) borders the Arctic Ocean and contains most of the state's petroleum reserves. It is also home to thousands of migratory birds, caribou, and other creatures.

RELATED
Geographic Magazine: "Oil Field or Sanctuary?" ( See Below )
http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/data/2001/08/01/html/ft_20010801.3.html

Exxon Valdez Spill, 15 Years Later: Damage Lingers ( See Below )
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/03/0318_040318_exxonvaldez.html

Oil Spills Pollute Indefinitely and Invisibly, Study Says
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/11/1122_021122_OilSpill.html

The oil spill happened in the Prudhoe Bay oil field in late February, but it was not discovered for five days. The spill is the largest in the region's history.

"Thank God this happened in the winter," said Noah Matson, director of the federal lands program for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C.

Wildlife is scarce in the region this time of year but will return when the snow melts this spring and summer.

Environmental groups have fought attempts by the Bush administration to open more lands on the North Slope, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil and gas development on the grounds that it would harm the environment.

The Bush administration believes the oil can be removed safely and that doing so will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and natural gas.

Congress has repeatedly blocked initiatives to open the refuge, though the battle is not over. Last Thursday the U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution that contains instructions to open the refuge to oil drilling. This sets the stage for a battle in the House of Representatives later this year.

Natalie Brandon, policy director for the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, D.C., said the Prudhoe Bay spill raises questions about the push to open up more areas of the North Slope to oil and gas development.

"The bottom line is these kinds of risks are inherent when you have oil production … Do you want to put that risk somewhere like a wildlife refuge?" she said.

Undetected Spill

The Prudhoe Bay oil spill went undetected for five days before a field worker smelled the crude oil while driving through the area on March 2, an official with oil company BP said at a news conference in Anchorage on March 14.

Preliminary analysis suggests the oil leaked from a quarter-inch (two-thirds of a centimeter) hole corroded in a pipeline, according to Ed Meggert, a spill prevention and response coordinator for the Alaska Department of Environmental Protection in Juneau.

"Both BP and the state are real concerned about that," he said.

The leaky pipe is part of the oil field infrastructure built in the late 1970s. Officials are concerned that other sections of the aging system may be susceptible to leaks in the future.

"That's being examined very closely," Meggert added.

The spill, which covers about 2 acres (0.8 hectares), occurred in one of several caribou-crossing areas where pipes are laid underground and covered with gravel to allow passage by animals.

Brandon said the crossing areas attract water and the pipes underneath are particularly susceptible to corrosion.

While caribou, a migratory species, are currently absent from the North Slope, they'll return to the region this summer.

"Can we get this cleaned up in time for when the caribou get there?" Defenders of Wildlife's Matson asked.

Cleaning Up

Meggert expects the spill to be nearly 100-percent cleaned up before summer.

The liquid pools of oil have almost all been vacuumed, he said. Snow mixed with oil is being melted and the oil recovered. Crews will also scrape oil residue from the tundra.

He expects the spring melt to wash most of the remaining oil into an adjacent lake where floating booms will prevent further spread and allow for recovery.

"We have a pretty good track record cleaning these things up," he said. "I'm pretty confident we can do it, and if [the tundra] doesn't totally recover this year, in time it will, next year or the year after."

But the cleanup is a slow, cold process. The wind chill at Prudhoe Bay was less than -40ºF (-40ºC) Thursday.

"Right now, they are collecting a few hundred gallons a day basically, because it's so cold," said Brandon of the Alaska Wilderness League. "So that's just longer and longer the oil will be sitting out there."

Prior to this spill, the largest in the North Slope was a 38,850-gallon (147,063-liter) spill in 1989.

By contrast, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons (41.6 million liters) into Prince William Sound on Alaska's southern coast that same year.


 

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Bellona
Norway edition
March 20, 2006

http://www.bellona.no/en/energy/42428.html

Alaska experiences worst oil pipeline leak in its history--
final damage still not tallied

MURMANSKA rusty and corroded oil pipeline along Alaska’s northern coast near Prudhoe Bay sprung a leak earlier this month, constituting Alaska’s largest oil pipeline accident on record, and dumping some million litres of crude oil into the north Arctic Ocean.

Anna Kireeva, 2006-03-20 12:32
Translated by Charles Digges

Oily spots where noticed in early March, but the scale of the accident is only recently being ascertained and could grow considerable by the time the final figures are in.

”There have been two spills recently due to corrosion of the feeder pipelines on Alaska's North Slope. The larger spill was more than 200,000 gallons [760,000 litres]. We still don't know the size of the smaller spill,” said John Devens, executive director the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.

Devens was previously the mayor of Valdez, in southern Alaska when the infamous Exxon Valdez set sail from the Valdez oil terminal and collided with a reef in 1989, leading to the most serious oil spill and ecological catastrophe at sea on record.

According to researchers, the consequences of the Exxon Valdez spill sharply reduced the population of native fish life, including humpback salmon, and the restoration of a range of sensitive ecosystem will take at least 30 years. A court decision forced Exxon to pay $4.5 billion in compensation.

 
Devens noted that, at the time, the foot-dragging response to the accident by Exxon led Valdez residents to think they had been cheated by the oil-giant. But literate societal action and pressure on the city administration force the oil company to make a number of concessions. Directly following the Valdez accident, the Citizens’ Advisory Council was created, which directed the actions of the oil companies. The Council is financed by money earmarked for the purpose by oil companies operating in Alaska.

Devins said that the pipeline on which this most recent accident occurred is already 30 years old.

“The lines are 30 years old and cause us concern about what else is going wrong with the system,” he said.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council 
The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council has 18 members consisting of groups impacted by the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe, and includes among its number environmentalists, cultural organisations, as well as fishermen and tourist agencies.
 Go to web page » 
http://www.pwsrcac.org/
 
 Many observers say that the pipeline spill and the Exxon Valdez crisis, the two worst oil accidents to happen in the Arctic Region, cast a very poor light on the Bush Administration’s plans to expand pipelines in Alaska and to drill the Alaskan National Wildlife Preservation.

The reasons behind the accident
According to local officials, the source of the current pipeline leak was a tear caused by internal corrosion in the pipeline, which is operated by the Alaskan office of British Petroleum (BP).

The pipeline has a series of special leak detectors. But despite the elaborate system, no one can as yet pin-point the time that the spill began. It was only discovered on March 2nd, after which the pipeline was shut down and the leak repaired.

BP will carry out an investigation during which it will determine if the leak detection system was working properly when the leak arose.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Dan Larson of BP to American news agencies.

The scale of the leak
According to environmentalists’ calculations, crude oil is covering a hectare of snowy tundra.

“I can confirm that this is the largest spill of crude oil on the northern slope [of Alaska] of all that we have recorded,” Linda Giguere of Alaska’s Environmental Department told the associated press.

Her calculations on the scale of the spill are based on measurements taken only a few days after the accident around the spot of the rupture on the pipeline, she said.

As the region where the spill took place is thinly populated, there is little risk to residents. The accident took place along the Northern coast of Alaska, some 1,040 kilometres north of Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city.

The main problem caused by the accident is the damage done to an enormous feeding territory for birds and other animals that will now have to migrate from the accident site.

Cleaning up the accident
Accident liquidators are currently working on the site of the spill, but the clean-up is dependent on weather conditions. Strong chills and ice make the oil thicker, which spreads its diffusion over an even larger area.

The liquidators have a set goal of gathering at least 90 percent of the spilled crude, according to BP’s Larson.

 

 

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New York Times

March 20, 2006

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/20/national/20spill.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=0b10e40fb9671e9f&hp&ex=1142830800&partner=homepage

 

 Oil Spill Raises Concerns on Pipeline Maintenance

By FELICITY BARRINGER

 

WASHINGTON, March 18 — An oil spill this month in Alaska, the largest ever on the North Slope, has raised new concerns among state and federal regulators about whether BP has been properly maintaining its aging network of wells, pumps and pipelines that crisscross the tundra.

 

BP Exploration Alaska, the subsidiary of the international oil giant that operates the corroded transmission line from which more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil leaked, has been criticized and fined in several different cases, most recently in 2004 when state regulators fined the company more than $1.2 million.

 

Now the division of the federal Department of Transportation responsible for pipeline safety is looking into the company's maintenance practices.

 

James Wiggins, a spokesman for the office, said Friday that BP had been informed that it could not restart the pipeline until the company had thoroughly inspected the line, internally and externally, repaired it, and given the agency a corrosion monitoring plan.

 

In addition, one of the company's longtime employees, a mechanic and local union official who has participated in the spill cleanup, said in a telephone interview that he and his colleagues had repeatedly warned their superiors that cutbacks in routine maintenance and inspection had increased the chances of accidents or spills.

 

In the interview, Marc Kovac, who is an official of the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the BP facility, said he had seen little change in BP's approach despite the warnings.

 

"For years we've been warning the company about cutting back on maintenance," Mr. Kovac said, adding that he was speaking for himself, not the union. "We know that this could have been prevented."

 

Asked about Mr. Kovac's account, Daren Beaudo, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail message, "Whenever employees raise concerns about our operations we look into them and address them." He did not specifically address Mr. Kovac's account of his complaints to his bosses.

 

In November 2004, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission fined the company more than $1.2 million after an explosion and fire at one of its wells. The accident, in 2002, left an operator badly burned.

 

BP has cultivated a worldwide image as a company concerned about the environment, recognizing global warming and making conspicuous efforts at aggressive environmental protection in many places.

 

But the most recent spill, which spurted from an elevated transmission pipeline at a spot where it dips to ground level to allow caribou to cross, has prompted critics inside the industry and among environmental groups to revisit questions raised four years ago. They question whether the company is skimping on maintenance and inspections to save money — a complaint the company strenuously denies.

 

But it remains unclear whether the company had warning that corrosion in this line had worsened to the point of a breach, and whether the warning signals company officials say they picked up in September should have prompted them to shut down this section of pipe and route oil around it.

 

"When we inspected the line in September 2005, points of manageable corrosion were evident and all were within standards of operations integrity," Mr. Beaudo said in an e-mail message. "Something happened to the corrosion rates in that line between September 2005 and the time of the spill that we don't yet fully understand."

 

Gary Evans, an environmental program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, defended the company in a telephone interview. Referring to the September inspections with ultrasound imaging, he said, "I believe in my heart if they would have found a spot on that pipeline that set off a bell or a whistle they would have shut it off" and built the kind of detour pipeline now under construction.

 

"I can't believe for a second that they would chance it," he added. "This is a worst-case scenario."

 

Another question is whether the company postponed for too long a rigorous but disruptive internal inspection of the pipeline, known in industry jargon as smart pigging.

 

In the procedure, electronic monitors called smart pigs — successors to an earlier generation of cleaning devices that squealed as they ran through the pipe — are used to measure the thickness of a pipe's walls and detect defects. Mr. Beaudo and Mr. Kovac agreed that since 1998 no such inspection had been performed on the line that leaked.

 

Setting up the device is cumbersome, and its data are hard to analyze. The process also slows the movement of oil to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

 

BP's own 2003 plan for safe maintenance and management of its facilities, on file with the Alaska Department of Environmental Protection, says that "the interval between smart-pig runs is typically five years."

 

Mr. Beaudo, the BP spokesman, said that since 1999, 85 external corrosion inspections had been conducted on that line. Further, he said, 139 internal inspections were performed with ultrasound devices applied to the outside of the insulated pipe, providing a picture of the inside.

 

In a news conference on Tuesday, Maureen Johnson, the senior vice president and manager of the Greater Prudhoe Bay unit of BP Exploration Alaska, said, "We believe the leak was caused by internal corrosion and internal corrosion caused relatively recently" — in the last six to nine months.

 

In September, she said, inspections revealed advancing corrosion and showed "we needed to do something." She said an internal "smart pig" inspection was scheduled for this month.

 

In an e-mail message to a company lawyer in June 2004, Mr. Kovac, the union official, assembled a collection of his earlier complaints to management. One of these, dated Feb. 28, 2003, concerned "corrosion monitoring staffing levels." It began, "The corrosion monitoring crew will soon be reduced to six staff down from eight."

 

Later, it noted, "With the present staff, the crew is currently one month behind. The backlog is expected to increase with a further reduction in manpower."

 

Mr. Kovac and other workers have reported their concerns for several years to Chuck Hamel, a onetime oil broker who has made himself a conduit for getting press attention for worker complaints and whom Mr. Kovac called "our ombudsman."

 

Asked about Mr. Kovac's account, Mr. Hamel said: "Whatever I've been able to help the technicians publicize, they've fixed. Whatever we're not publicizing, we don't fix. They delay, and they schedule for next year. Everything's scheduled for next year. That way, if something goes, like in this case, they say, 'We scheduled that.' "

 

Mr. Beaudo, asked about staffing levels, said by e-mail, "We've significantly increased the number of external inspections since 2000," adding "and therefore have increased our staffing."

 

He pointed to the company's 2004 report to the state on corrosion monitoring. It shows that external and internal inspections on lines from the wellheads — usually smaller than the transmission lines like the one that leaked — rose from 39,001 in 2001 to 69,666 in 2002, before falling back slightly, to 60,666 in 2003 and 62,637 in 2004.

 

In a separate message he noted that staffing and scheduling decisions for the BP division that handles corrosion inspections "are carefully considered and managed according to the scope of the work being done."

 

In a news release Friday, Kurt Fredriksson, a commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, praised BP's efforts. "The oil spill response has been well managed," he said. "The spill occurred at a time when impacts to the environment are minimal."

 

The release also quoted him as saying, "We will be considering the investigation team's findings over the next several weeks in deciding whether to propose additional corrective actions or regulatory changes for leak detection, corrosion control and integrity management."

 

The line that leaked was in the last leg of a network that carries oil from the wellhead through processing facilities and on to the main pipeline that ends in Valdez.

 

The smaller lines nearer the wells are regulated by the state; lines like the 34-inch one that leaked are under the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the federal Transportation Department.

 

But that office exempts from its regulations pipelines, like the one that leaked, that are in rural areas and are run at low pressures. At a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Lois N. Epstein, a petroleum engineer and an environmental advocate in Alaska, called for the department to scrap that exemption.

 

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Time Magazine
March 19, 2006

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1174717,00.html

An Oil Pipeline in Peril?
After a leak in Prudoe Bay, an oil giant gets a
tough fix-it order from the federal government
By WESLEY LOY/ANCHORAGE

London-based oil giant BP, scrambling to clean up one of the largest oil spills in Alaska history and stay out of further trouble with state pollution regulators, now has federal authorities to satisfy as well.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a "corrective action order" to BP to repair a leaky pipeline and improve corrosion inspections in its Prudhoe Bay oil field, the nation's largest. The order, first obtained by the Anchorage Daily News, reveals alarming details about the deteriorated condition of the pipeline, a major oilfield artery that leaked more than 200,000 gallons of oil onto the fragile tundra on Alaska's North Slope.

The pipeline came very close to springing a second leak and maybe more, the federal document says. It says a BP inspection turned up at least six additional corroded spots or other "anomalies" along the 10-mile line, part of a vast web of pipes that drains Prudhoe, funneling crude into the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline to the port of Valdez. At one spot, the steel pipeline wall was eaten down to only .04 of an inch, very nearly unleashing more oil onto the tundra. The pipe is 30 years old, installed a year before Prudhoe oil production began in 1977.

The leak, discovered by a passing BP field worker who smelled the snow-covered oil early on the morning of March 2, has triggered a massive cleanup in dangerous, subzero weather, and has cut North Slope oil production by 12%, or nearly 100,000 barrels a day, because the leaky pipeline and more than 200 wells were shut down. The reduced production could last weeks longer.

Stacey Gerard, the Transportation Department's associate administrator for pipeline safety, said the unusual order was issued to BP because continued operation of the pipeline without corrective measures "will be hazardous to life, property and the environment." The order comes in the midst of renewed Congressional fighting over oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with supporters insisting that oil companies will be able to drill for oil without damaging the sensitive arctic ecosystem.
The order requires BP to:

- Repair corrosion damage to the satisfaction of Transportation Department officials before restarting the pipeline.

- Develop a better plan to reduce internal corrosion inside the failed pipe, as well as other major oilfield lines.

- Review and improve the pipeline's leak detection system, which failed to warn of the leak.

BP faces potentially millions of dollars in pollution fines from the state. The company also faces a federal civil penalty of up to $100,000 daily if it fails to follow the federal order.

The company had previously expressed surprise at the pipe's leak, but in the wake of the Department of Transportation fix-it order, BP admitted that an earlier inspection of the pipe had revealed numerous weaknesses that were, for unknown reasons, rapidly worsening. The federal order was also noteworthy because BP had previously tried to argue that the federal government had no jurisdiction to oversee the pipe in question.

Company spokesman Daren Beaudo said BP already had planned to take many of the steps the Transportation Department ordered. He added that the company spends aggressively to combat corrosion, a major threat to the aging pipelines of Prudhoe Bay.

 

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The Free Press
March 18, 2006

http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/3/2006/1868

 GOP bids to take ANWR while region
was ravaged by major oil spill

by Jason Leopold
March 18, 2006

The Senate passed approved a measure in a budget bill Thursday that included a provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling - just as the region suffers through one of the worst oil spills in history.

The provision to permit drilling in ANWR was included in a resolution passed last week by the Senate Budget Committee. The full Senate is expected to vote on the issue as early as Thursday.

The measure was prepared by the Republican-controlled Senate in such a way that it would be protected from a filibuster by Senate Democrats opposed to the issue. Drilling in ANWR has been debated at least half a dozen times over the past five years.

The issue is one of the cornerstones of President Bush's National Energy Policy. Bush has said that drilling in ANWR is crucial in order for the United States to cut its dependence on foreign oil.

Environmentalists and numerous lawmakers have derided the plan, saying it would lead to the destruction of caribou and other wildlife that live in the refuge. Moreover, severe safety and technological issues have plagued the big oil companies that drill in nearby Prudhoe Bay and who would be responsible for breaking ground in ANWR should the Senate measure pass.

Because the companies have yet to take measures to address the safety issues at their Prudhoe Bay operations and make much-needed technological upgrades, there have been dozens of oil spills in the area. The situation would likely become even worse if ANWR were to be opened up to exploration, according to environmental officials and activist groups.

Just two weeks ago, the worst spill in the history of oil development in Alaska's North Slope forced the closure of five oil processing centers in the region. Alaskan state officials said that as much as 260,000 gallons of crude oil leaking out of a pipeline in an oil field jointly owned by Exxon Mobil, BP Plc and ConocoPhillips blanketed two acres of frozen tundra near Prudhoe Bay - just a short distance from where President Bush has proposed opening up ANWR to drilling.

The oil spill went undetected for about five days before an oilfield worker detected the scent of hydrocarbons during a drive through the area on March 2 that led him to believe there was a spill from one of the facilities.

It's expected that last week's spill will take a crew of 60 at least two weeks to clean up and to restore crude production to pre-spill levels. The petroleum processing centers will remain closed until then.

The spill underscores the hazards of drilling in the Arctic, despite the fact that oil company executives have downplayed the severity of the technological problems likely to be associated with it.

Last year, unbeknownst to the federal lawmakers who debated the merits of drilling in ANWR, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation started laying the groundwork to pursue civil charges against BP and the corporation's drilling contractor for failing to report massive oil spills at its Prudhoe Bay operation, located just 60 miles west of ANWR.

Despite those dire warnings, neither Congress nor the Senate has shown interest in investigating the whistleblowers' claims or held hearings about the potential problems that could result from drilling in ANWR.

But BP employees have warned lawmakers that oil spills like the one that took place a couple of weeks ago could happen in ANWR if upgrades aren't made to the oil companies' drilling equipment.

In March of 2002, a BP whistleblower went public with his claims of maintenance backlogs and employee shortages at BP's Prudhoe Bay operations that he said could become even worse if ANWR is opened up to exploration.

The whistleblower, Robert Brian, who worked as an instrument technician at Prudhoe Bay for 22 years, had a lengthy meeting with aides to Senators Joseph Lieberman and Bob Graham, both Democrats, to discuss his claims. But the senators have never followed up on his claims.

At the time, Brian said he supported opening up ANWR to oil exploration but said BP has imperiled that goal because it is "putting Prudhoe workers and the environment at risk."

"We are trying to change that so we don't have a catastrophe that ends up on CNN and stops us from getting into ANWR," he said, according to a March 13, 2002, report in the Anchorage Daily News.

BP has long been criticized for poorly managing the North Slope's aging pipelines, safety valves and other critical components of its oil production infrastructure.

The company has in the past made minor improvements to its valves and fire detection systems and hired additional employees but has dropped the ball and neglected to maintain a level of safety at its facilities on the North Slope.

Chuck Hamel, a highly regarded activist who is credited with exposing dozens of oil spills and the subsequent cover-ups related to BP's shoddy operations at Prudhoe Bay, sent a letter to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) on April 15, 2005, saying the senator was duped by oil executives and state officials during a recent visit to Alaska's North Slope.

"You obviously are unaware of the cheating by some producers and drilling companies," Hamel said in the letter to Domenici, an arch proponent of drilling in ANWR. "Your official Senate tour" of Alaska last March "was masked by the orchestrated 'dog and pony show' provided you at the new Alpine Field, away from the real world of the Slope's dangerously unregulated operations."

Back in the 1980s, Hamel was the first person to expose weak pollution laws at the Valdez tanker port as well as electrical and maintenance problems with the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Hamel has said that not only do oil spills continue on the North Slope because BP neglects to address maintenance issues, but the oil behemoth's executives have routinely lied to Alaskan state representatives and members of the United States Senate and Congress about the steps they're taking to correct the problems.

Hamel has obtained some damning evidence on BP to back up his claims. He has photographs showing oil wells spewing a brown substance known as drilling mud, which contain traces of crude oil, on two separate occasions.

Hamel says he's determined to expose BP's shoddy operations and throw a wrench in President Bush's plans to open up ANWR to drilling.

"Contrary to what President Bush has been saying, the current BP Prudhoe Bay operations - particularly the dysfunctional safety valves - are deeply flawed and place the environment, the safety of the operations staff and the integrity of the facility at risk. The president should delay legislation calling for drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Hamel told the Wall Street Journal last year.

In April of 2001, whistleblowers informed Hamel and former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who at the time was touring the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, that the safety valves at Prudhoe Bay, which kick in in the event of a pipeline rupture, failed to close. Secondary valves that connect the oil platforms with processing plants also failed to close. And, because the technology at Prudhoe Bay would be duplicated at ANWR, the potential for a massive explosion and huge spills are very real.

"A major spill or fire at one of our [processing centers] will exit the piping at high pressure, and leave a half-mile-wide oil slick on the white snow all the way," Hamel said at the time in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

That year, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found high failure rates on some Prudhoe wellhead safety valves. The company was put on federal criminal probation after one of its contractors dumped thousands of gallons of toxic material underground at BP's Endicott oil field in the 1990s. BP pleaded guilty to the charges in 2000 and paid a $6.5 million fine, and agreed to set up a nationwide environmental management program that has cost more than $20 million.

Hamel also claimed that whistleblowers had told of another cover-up, dating back to 2003, in which Pioneer Natural Resources and its drilling contractor, Nabors Alaska Drilling, allegedly disposed of more than 2,000 gallons of toxic drilling mud and fluids through the ice "to save the cost of proper disposal on shore."

Hamel has had his share of detractors, notably BP executives and several Alaskan state officials, as well as the federal EPA, who have branded him a conspiracy theorist.

But last March, Hamel was vindicated when Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed his claims of major spills in December 2004 and July 2003 at the oil well owned by BP and operated by its drilling contractor, Nabors, on the North Slope, which the company had never reported as required by state law.

Hamel filed a formal complaint in January 2005 with the EPA, claiming he had pictures showing a gusher spewing a brown substance. An investigation by Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation determined that as much as 294 gallons of drilling mud was spilled when gas was sucked into wells, causing sprays of drilling mud and oil that shot up as high as 85 feet into the air.

Because both spills exceeded 55 gallons, BP and Nabors were obligated under a 2003 compliance agreement that BP signed with Alaska to immediately report the spills. That didn't occur, said Leslie Pearson, the agency's spill prevention and emergency response manager.

President Bush has said that the oil and gas industry can open up ANWR without damaging the environment or displacing wildlife. But the native Gwich'in Nation, whose 7,000 members have lived in Alaska for more than 20,000 years, say President Bush is wrong.

"Existing oil development has displaced caribou, polluted the air and water and created havoc with the traditional lifestyles of the people," said Jonathan Solomon, chairman of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, in a May 7, 2005, interview with the Financial Times. "No one can tell us that opening the Arctic Refuge to development can be done in an environmentally sensitive way with a small footprint. It cannot be done."

---
Jason Leopold is the author of the forthcoming memoir, NEWS JUNKIE, to be published in April on Process/Feral House Books. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview and to read an excerpt

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 18, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7542795p-7454269c.html

 Pipeline has been poorly monitored
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 18, 2006
Last Modified: March 18, 2006 at 02:15 AM

AP Photo
http://www.adn.com/photo/2006/03/18/1876714-144-x-250.jpg
The Prudhoe Bay oil field spill on Alaska's North Slope is seen, Mar. 12, 2006. Cleaning up the spill, estimated at 201,000 gallons, has been slow going because workers need frequent breaks to protect themselves against extreme conditions

A major pipeline that unleashed the largest oil spill ever on the North Slope came within a whisker of springing a second ruinous leak, and maybe more, according to a federal order for BP to fix the problems.

The order, issued this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation pipeline safety regulators, reveals new details about the weakened condition of the pipeline. It also intensifies the question of how thoroughly BP was monitoring the aging pipe's known corrosion problems.

Over several days, an estimated 201,000 gallons of oil squirted undetected out of a hole smaller than an almond, coating almost two acres of tundra and the edge of a frozen lake with crude. A BP field worker found the spill near the heart of the Prudhoe Bay oil field March 2 after smelling oil as he drove down a road along the pipeline.

BP and state investigators believe corrosion ate through the steel pipe from the inside out. The pipe, 34 inches in diameter, was installed in 1976, a year before production began at Prudhoe, the nation's largest oil field.

The company's leak investigation turned up at least six additional "anomalies" along a 3-mile segment of the pipeline, with the same internal corrosion seen in several places, the federal order says.

At the worst of the trouble spots, the pipeline's carbon steel wall, normally more than a third of an inch thick, was down to 0.04 of an inch, a razor-thin barrier between the oil and the tundra.

Spokesmen for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., which runs Prudhoe on behalf of itself and other field owners, did not return phone calls seeking comment late Friday.

BP managers have previously said they were surprised the pipe sprang a leak. However, they acknowledged checking the line in recent months and finding corrosion that, for reasons not yet fully understand, was rapidly growing worse.

The company says it has an aggressive corrosion control program with a budget that's increased from $50 million in 2004 to $71 million planned for this year.

Stacey Gerard, associate administrator for pipeline safety, said the DOT issued BP the unusual order outlining steps to fix and better monitor the pipeline because its continued operation without corrective measures "will be hazardous to life, property and the environment."

Gerard said DOT pipeline safety officials investigated the leak and preliminarily concluded the pipeline's leak-detection system "was not effective in recognizing and identifying the failure."

They also noted that BP last tested the line with a smart pig -- a bullet-shaped electronic device that slides through a pipe looking for corroded or weak spots -- in 1998, and that the company had no regular pigging schedule. Pigging is one of the most important ways to find flaws in pipeline walls.

Gerard ordered BP to meet 10 conditions for returning the idled pipeline to service. The order applies not only to the leaky pipeline, which drains the western side of the sprawling Prudhoe Bay field, but to two similar pipelines, the eastern Prudhoe and Lisburne lines.

Under the federal order, BP must:

• Repair corrosion damage to the satisfaction of federal officials before restarting the pipeline that leaked.

• Develop plans to reduce internal corrosion on all three major pipelines within three months.

• Review and improve leak-detection systems on the pipelines within three months.

Kurt Fredriksson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said Friday he welcomed the federal intervention in the spill, a high-profile incident that's figuring in the current congressional debate over whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

He said BP has "a robust monitoring system" to try to prevent and control corrosion in the North Slope's hundreds of miles of pipelines but that the leak was disappointing.

Fredriksson added that the state was already in the process of expanding regulation of pipelines, and the spill might result in stricter rules.

BP could be subject to millions of dollars in fines for the spill, but another DEC official, Larry Dietrick, said the amount can't be calculated until the cleanup is complete.

A massive cleanup continues in subzero weather. Responders so far have recovered about 64,000 gallons of spilled oil, and DEC officials believe tundra damage might be light because the oil can't seep into the frozen ground.

Because the pipeline is shut down, North Slope oil production remains down by nearly 100,000 barrels per day, or 12 percent of normal output.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com or 257-4590.

 

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Seattle Post Intelligencer
March 18, 2006

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/263468_alaska-oilspill18.html

Saturday, March 18, 2006
 BP faces fines for not detecting oil spill in Alaska
By RACHEL D'ORO
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- For five days or more, crude oil oozed from a pipeline through a corrosion hole about the size of a pencil eraser, silently spreading underneath the snow in what would become the biggest spill ever on Alaska's North Slope.

AP PHOTO
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/dayart/20060318/226PRUDHOE_SPILL_AKRB102.jpg
A worker braves merciless cold as he vacuums up some of the 267,000 gallons of oil that spilled at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field.

Ultimately it wasn't the pipeline's leak-detection systems that discovered the spill.

It was an oilfield worker who caught a whiff of the petroleum.

Industry watchdogs say the spill was absolutely preventable and should have been detected more promptly, and they blame cost-pinching practices at BP, which runs the Prudhoe Bay operation. BP has defended its maintenance spending and inspection practices.

Nevertheless, state environmental regulators say the spill will lead to fines and possibly stricter pipeline regulations in Alaska.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is investigating and this week ordered BP to inspect the affected pipeline and two other transit lines and make any necessary repairs.

Up to 267,000 gallons are believed to have spilled onto the frozen ground from a 34-inch pipeline situated in the tundra about 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. The arctic-grade carbon-steel pipe, which leads eventually to the trans-Alaska pipeline, lies above ground but is covered by a layer of gravel, as well as the snow.

Former state oil analyst Richard Fineberg, author of a report issued Thursday on the spill by the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, said BP knew there was a corrosion problem with the 30-year-old pipeline but was not conducting frequent enough inspections. BP also steadfastly refused to install a more accurate leak-detection system, he charged.

"How can you possibly not have the best available technology in the largest oil field in the U.S., in view of the fact that aging pipes have been a problem for years and years and years?" he said. "If you had a state-of-the-art leak detection system, you probably would have known about a spill on the first day."

BP officials said they have an aggressive maintenance program, with a corrosion inspection budget for the North Slope this year of $71 million, up from $50 million spent in 2004.

"Our intention is to be operating in Alaska for another 50 years," said company spokesman Daren Beaudo. "Part of that requires renewed investments in our facilities and pipelines."

Also, company officials said that after an inspection last fall revealed corrosion, they stepped up their inspection schedule.

As for why the leak was not discovered sooner, BP said the leak may have simply been too small to register. The pipeline's leak-monitoring equipment, installed in 2002, is designed to detect a 1 percent drop in the oil flow over a 24-hour period, BP said.
The spill -- which eventually was discovered March 2 by an oilfield worker who smelled the acrid fumes -- covers an area smaller than two football fields in a vast industrial hub traversed by pipelines, oil gathering stations and power plants.

Given the size of the spill, officials believe the crude was pushing out of the quarter-inch hole for at least five days. About 63,500 gallons of crude have been recovered.

Ed Meggert of the state Department of Environmental Conservation said he expects little permanent damage. "There could be a spot here and there that doesn't recover," he said. "But with revegetation, it should look quite a bit like it used to by the end of summer."


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Seattle Times
March 18, 2006

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002873044_prudhoe18.html

 Critic blames oil spill on cost-pinching
By RACHEL D'ORO
The Associated Press

PHOTOs:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2006/03/17/2002872803.jpg
The trans-Alaska pipeline as seen Monday near the site of the Prudhoe Bay oil field spill. Cleanup has been slowed by extreme weather conditions, which force workers to take frequent breaks.

Animal Crossing Diagram:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2006/03/17/2002872854.gif


ANCHORAGE  For five days or more, crude oil oozed from a pipeline through a corrosion hole about the size of a pencil eraser, silently spreading underneath the snow in what would become the biggest spill on Alaska's North Slope.

It wasn't the pipeline's leak-detection systems that discovered the spill.

It was an oil-field worker who caught a whiff of the petroleum March 2.

Although the spill is much less than the 11 million gallons spilled in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, industry watchdogs said the spill was preventable and should have been detected more promptly. They blame cost-pinching practices at BP, which runs the Prudhoe Bay operation. BP has defended its maintenance spending and inspection practices.

Nevertheless, state environmental regulators said the spill will lead to fines and possibly stricter pipeline regulations in Alaska, which has grown rich on oil since crude began flowing from the North Slope via the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is investigating and this week ordered BP to inspect the affected pipeline and two other transit lines and make necessary repairs.

Up to 267,000 gallons are believed to have spilled onto the frozen ground from a 34-inch-diameter pipeline in the tundra about 250 miles above the Arctic Circle before it was plugged. The arctic-grade carbon-steel pipe, which leads to the trans-Alaska pipeline, lies above ground but is covered by a layer of gravel and snow.

Former state oil analyst Richard Fineberg, author of a report issued Thursday on the spill by the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, said BP knew there was a corrosion problem with the 30-year-old pipeline but was not conducting frequent enough inspections. BP also refused to install a more accurate leak-detection system, he said.

"How can you possibly not have the best available technology in the largest oil field in the U.S., in view of the fact that aging pipes have been a problem for years and years and years?" he said. "If you had a state-of-the-art leak-detection system, you probably would have known about a spill on the first day."

BP officials said they have an aggressive maintenance program, with a corrosion-inspection budget for the North Slope this year of $71 million, up from $50 million in 2004.

"Our intention is to be operating in Alaska for another 50 years," said company spokesman Daren Beaudo. "Part of that requires renewed investments in our facilities and pipelines."

Also, company officials said that after an inspection last fall revealed corrosion, they stepped up their inspection schedule and had planned a follow-up look this month. They said they were stunned the corrosion ate through the line so quickly.

As for why the leak was not discovered sooner, BP said the leak may have been too small to register. The pipeline's leak-monitoring equipment, installed in 2002, is designed to detect a 1 percent drop in the oil flow over 24 hours, BP said.

Beaudo said the age of the pipe is not believed to be a factor. Instead, he said, the accident may be related to the fact the pipeline is increasingly carrying viscous oil, a hard-to-pump heavy crude being tapped as the oil field is drawn down.

Viscous oil carries more sediments and water, and the separation chemicals used on viscous oil may interfere with corrosion-inhibiting additives put in the pipeline, Beaudo said.

The spill covers an area smaller than two football fields in a vast industrial hub traversed by pipelines, oil-gathering stations and power plants.

Given the size of the spill, officials think the crude was pushing out of the quarter-inch hole for at least five days. About 63,500 gallons  or 1,513 barrels  of crude have been recovered, with work slowed in the past week by temperatures that plunged to 70 degrees below zero with the wind chill.

At the same time, the extreme cold thickens the crude, making it easier to scoop up and less capable of seeping into the ground.

Ed Meggert of the state Department of Environmental Conservation said he expects little permanent damage. "There could be a spot here and there that doesn't recover," he said. "But with revegetation it should look quite a bit like it used to by the end of summer."

Material from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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Wall Street Journal
March 18, 2006

Oil spill on BP-Operated Pipeline
In Alaska Went Undetected for Days
Associated Press
March 18, 2006 1:33 a.m.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- For five days or more, crude oil oozed from a pipeline through a corrosion hole about the size of a pencil eraser, silently spreading underneath the snow in what would become the biggest spill ever on Alaska's North Slope.

Ultimately it wasn't the pipeline's leak-detection systems that discovered the spill.

It was an oilfield worker who caught a whiff of the petroleum.

Industry watchdogs say the spill was absolutely preventable and should have been detected more promptly, and they blame cost-pinching practices at BP Plc, which runs the Prudhoe Bay operation. BP has defended its maintenance spending and inspection practices.

Nevertheless, state environmental regulators say the spill will lead to fines and possibly stricter pipeline regulations in Alaska, a state that has grown rich on oil since crude began flowing from the North Slope via the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is investigating and this week ordered BP to inspect the affected pipeline and two other transit lines and make and any necessary repairs.

Up to 267,000 gallons are believed to have spilled onto the frozen ground from a 34-inch diameter pipeline situated in the tundra about 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. The arctic-grade carbon-steel pipe, which leads eventually to the trans-Alaska pipeline, lies above ground but is covered by a layer of gravel, as well as the snow.

Former state oil analyst Richard Fineberg, author of a report issued Thursday on the spill by the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, said BP knew there was a corrosion problem with the 30-year-old pipeline but was not conducting frequent enough inspections. BP also steadfastly refused to install a more accurate leak-detection system, he charged.

"How can you possibly not have the best available technology in the largest oil field in the U.S., in view of the fact that aging pipes have been a problem for years and years and years?" he said. "If you had a state-of-the-art leak detection system, you probably would have known about a spill on first day."

BP officials said they have an aggressive maintenance program, with a corrosion inspection budget for the North Slope this year of $71 million, up from $50 million spent in 2004.

"Our intention is to be operating in Alaska for another 50 years," said company spokesman Daren Beaudo. "Part of that requires renewed investments in our facilities and pipelines."

Also, company officials said that after an inspection last fall revealed corrosion, they stepped up their inspection schedule, and had been planning a follow-up look this month. They said they were stunned that the corrosion ate all the way through the line so quickly.

As for why the leak was not discovered sooner, BP said the leak may have simply been too small to register. The pipeline's leak-monitoring equipment, installed in 2002, is designed to detect a 1% drop in the oil flow over a 24-hour period, BP said.

Mr. Beaudo said the age of the pipe is not believed to be a factor. Instead, he said, the accident may be related to the fact the pipeline is increasingly carrying viscous oil, a hard-to-pump heavy crude being tapped as the oil field is drawn down.

Viscous oil carries more sediments and water, and the separation chemicals used on viscous oil may interfere with corrosion-inhibiting additives that are put in the pipeline, Mr. Beaudo said.

"Viscous is a challenge to get out of the ground and it's harder to separate. That's presented new challenges," he said.

The spill -- which was eventually discovered March 2 by an oilfield worker who smelled the acrid fumes -- covers an area smaller than two football fields in a vast industrial hub traversed by pipelines, oil gathering stations and power plants.

Given the size of the spill, officials believe the crude was pushing out of the quarter-inch hole for at least five days. About 63,500 gallons -- or 1,513 barrels -- of crude have been recovered, with work slowed in the past week by punishing arctic conditions that plunged temperatures to 70 degrees below zero with the wind chill.

At the same time, the extreme cold thickens the crude, making it easier to scoop up and less capable of seeping into the ground.

Ed Meggert of the state Department of Environmental Conservation said he expects little permanent damage. "There could be a spot here and there that doesn't recover," he said. "But with revegetation it should look quite a bit like it used to by the end of summer."

Among the crews responding to the spill are Eskimos from North Slope villages who live off the land and consider themselves caretakers of the wilderness. North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta, an Eskimo hunter and whaling captain, is urging state regulators to require better leak-detection equipment.

"It's fortunate this did not happen in a river or fish-producing lake and fortunate it happened where it did," Mr. Itta said.

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Anchorage Daily News
March 17, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7540469p-7451963c.html

BP ordered to ensure pipe safety
Wall Street Journal
March 18, 2006

NORTH SLOPE: Letter from federal agency
follows record oil spill.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 17, 2006
Last Modified: March 17, 2006 at 03:21 AM

Federal pipeline safety officials have intervened in the Prudhoe Bay oil spill, ordering BP to take aggressive steps to ensure a major pipe that leaked more than 200,000 gallons of crude won't break down again.

Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., acknowledged the company received a letter from the Office of Pipeline Safety, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The letter orders BP to take a series of actions, such as running an electronic device called a pig through the 3-mile pipeline to test for corrosion or other problems.

Beaudo said late Thursday that he was not at liberty to provide a copy of the letter.

"We're still reviewing it," he said.

The federal intervention is somewhat unexpected because BP has long maintained that the pipeline that leaked is not subject to federal regulation.

The Office of Pipeline Safety, however, has been studying whether to expand its oversight to cover more of the thousands of miles of steel pipes lacing Prudhoe and other North Slope oil fields.

The leaky pipeline, 34 inches in diameter, carries crude oil from a Prudhoe processing plant called Gathering Center 2 to the starting point of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

A worker for BP, which operates the nation's largest oil field, discovered a leak March 2 after smelling oil as he drove an access road running alongside the pipeline.

Cleanup workers subsequently determined that the spill amounts to the largest crude oil spill by far on the North Slope. The spilled oil covers close to two acres, including the edge of a frozen lake.

Pollution officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation say they're confident that cleanup workers will be able to recover most of the oil without much damage to the tundra.

But the spill has caused major disruption for BP, shutting down a pipeline that carries about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, or 12 percent of total North Slope production. Because of the size of the spill, BP could be fined millions of dollars.

BP managers have said the leaky pipeline could remain out of service for weeks. Meantime, they hope to restore some of the idled production by routing oil through a nearby but smaller pipeline.

Top state officials this morning are scheduled to hold a Juneau briefing on the spill investigation and the "regulatory implications to pipelines."

The officials include DEC Commissioner Kurt Fredriksson, Natural Resources Commissioner Mike Menge, Attorney General David Marquez and John Norman, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The Office of Pipeline Safety regulates 2.3 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, according to the agency's Web site.

But many of the pipelines on the North Slope -- predominantly smaller pipes known as gathering or flow lines -- do not come under federal regulation.

BP believes the leaky Prudhoe pipeline is a gathering line not subject to such regulation, spokesman Beaudo said.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

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http://www.adn.com/money/story/7540491p-7451985c.html

North Slope February production down slightly
1.3 PERCENT: Repairs at BP's Milne Point
field lowered totals for the month.
By KRISTEN NELSON
Petroleum News
Published: March 17, 2006
Last Modified: March 17, 2006 at 04:56 AM

North Slope production was down 1.3 percent in February, driven by a 13 percent drop at BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.'s Milne Point field. The company did planned repairs on a gas compressor there Feb. 19-26, causing the fall in production.

North Slope production averaged 846,127 barrels per day in February, the state said. Production in March will be off significantly due to the March 2 shutdown of a corroded main pipeline at the huge Prudhoe Bay field, idling about 95,000 barrels a day of production.

In February, BP-operated Prudhoe Bay averaged 400,383 barrels a day, down 1.5 percent from January. Prudhoe production includes oil from the small Midnight Sun, Aurora, Polaris, Borealis and Orion nearby.

At the Slope's No. 2 field, Kuparuk River, production averaged 171,804 barrels a day, up 1 percent. The Kuparuk totals include oil from the nearby West Sak, Tabasco, Tarn, Meltwater and Palm fields.

The No. 3 field is Alpine, run by Conoco Phillips Alaska Inc. Production there averaged 126,141 barrels a day, down 1.4 percent.

BP's Northstar field had the largest increase, 4.5 percent, averaging 51,662 barrels a day in February.

Lisburne production -- including oil from the Lisburne, Point McIntyre and Niakuk fields -- averaged 39,231 barrels a day, down 2 percent.

Milne Point, where the gas compressor was repaired, averaged 36,684 barrels a day.

Production at the Endicott field averaged 20,222 barrels a day, down 2 percent. Endicott's numbers include oil from the small Sag Delta, Eider and Badami fields.

In Cook Inlet, February production averaged 17,394 barrels a day, down 2 percent from January.

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Anchorage Daily News
March 16, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7537497p-7449118c.html

 Spill may boost pipeline monitoring
PREVENTION: Corrosion, leak changes were proposed before recent Slope incident.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 16, 2006
Last Modified: March 16, 2006 at 01:48 AM

State pollution officials are planning an overhaul of oil spill prevention regulations that would expand corrosion and leak-detection requirements for pipelines.

Work on the proposed regulatory changes began about 18 months ago, long before a pipeline leak discovered this month caused the largest crude oil spill on the North Slope since production began 29 years ago.

Larry Dietrick, spill prevention and response director for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said it's possible the investigation into the spill will lead to further regulatory changes.

Spill prevention is "an incredibly technical arena," but state officials felt it was time to review and update regulations imposed in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Dietrick said.

Under DEC's proposed regulations, more of the state's extensive network of oil field pipelines would come under rules requiring corrosion monitoring, and in some cases equipment to detect leaks.

In particular, smaller pipes known as "gathering" or "flow" lines would be regulated. Such pipes haven't been regulated by either state or federal authorities, Dietrick said.

Corrosion is suspected as causing a small hole in a major Prudhoe Bay pipeline, causing an estimated 201,000 gallons, or 4,790 barrels, of oil to spill over an area of tundra nearly the size of two football fields. Unlike most gathering and flow lines, the leaky 34-inch pipeline has leak-detection equipment and carries only crude oil, as opposed to a mixture of oil, natural gas and water.

The damaged pipeline's leak detector is under scrutiny by investigators because the system didn't lead field workers to the leak. Rather, a worker driving by the pipeline smelled oil early on the morning of March 2, and a search turned up a snow-covered pool of crude more than a foot deep in spots, DEC officials said.

The leak detector is supposed to sound an alarm if the daily flow through the pipeline drops by 1 percent or more. Managers with BP, the company that runs the giant Prudhoe Bay field, believe no alarm sounded because the oil leaked out in too small an amount over a period of five days or more.

As part of revising the spill prevention regulations, the state considered lowering the 1 percent leak-detection threshold to half a percentage point but decided against it, said Craig Wilson, a DEC environmental program specialist. Lowering the threshold would create more false alarms, and while smaller leaks might be detected, they wouldn't be detected as fast, he said.

BP, in comments to the state last June, opposed lowering the 1 percent standard, saying no technological breakthroughs had been made in recent years to improve pipeline leak detection. Officials with the North Slope Borough, however, argued better technology does exist and BP should use it.

Dietrick said results of the investigation into the Prudhoe pipeline leak could result in further regulation changes beyond those DEC already is proposing.

The agency finished taking public comments on its proposed regulations on March 3, the day after the spill was found. New regulations could take effect by July 1, Wilson said.

For more information, go to www.dec. state.ak.us/spar/ipp/cpr.htm.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

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New York Times
March 15, 2006

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Prudhoe-Spill.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Oil Company Knew of Corrosion in Pipeline
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:43 a.m. ET

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- The oil company blamed for the North Slope's largest oil spill said Tuesday its inspectors were aware of corrosion in a pipeline months before it burst, but believed the threat to be ''manageable.''

An inspection last fall revealed corrosion in the line and led officials to step up their schedule of inspections, said Maureen Johnson, BP Exploration Alaska's senior vice president of the Greater Prudhoe Bay Unit.

Johnson said corrosion was seen in the 34-inch oil transit line in a September inspection but it appeared to be occurring at a ''low manageable corrosion rate.''

A leak was discovered March 2 and now covers two acres of remote and frozen tundra on Alaska's north coast near the Beaufort Sea. As of Monday, crews had recovered about 60,000 gallons of an estimated 201,000 to 267,000 gallons of spilled crude.

Spill investigators also found significant damage -- especially in low spots of the pipe -- that likely occurred within the last six to nine months.

Similar problems have not been found in other lines downstream and elsewhere in Prudhoe Bay, and Johnson said it appears the highly corrosive conditions were unique to that line.

''We can assure you we are taking action on all the possible causes out there,'' Johnson said.

On the Net:

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.:
http://alaska.bp.com/

Unified Command information site:
http://www.dec.state.ak.us

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 15, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7534712p-7446415c.html

Slope slowdown costing state $1 million per day
OIL SPILL: BP managers say they think pipeline leaked unnoticed for five or more days.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: March 15, 2006)

PHOTO:
Cleaning up the oil in Prudhoe Bay has been slow as workers take frequent breaks to protect against extreme conditions. (Photo by RICK BOWMER / The Associated Press)
http://www.adn.com/photo/2006/03/15/1868078-300-x-241.jpg

PHOTO, Diagram Caribou Crossings:
http://www.adn.com/ips_rich_content/915-15PrudhoeBaySpill.gif

PHOTO Gallery:
http://www.adn.com/photos/oil_spill/v-photo_gallery_0/

North Slope crude oil production could remain significantly below normal for two more weeks or longer due to the Prudhoe Bay pipeline leak that caused the Slope's largest oil spill, BP managers said Tuesday.

The slowdown in production is costing the state nearly $1 million a day in revenue.

The BP managers also said they figure the pipeline leaked for at least five days before the snow-covered spill was discovered.

And they said corrosion that ate a small hole in the steel pipe might have been caused by peculiar chemical factors in the pipeline.

BP managers said the shutdown of the leaky pipeline since March 2 has cut production by 95,000 barrels per day, or 12 percent of overall North Slope output. They said it will be two weeks before some or all of the production can be restored.

The 95,000 barrels, plus an additional 4,000 barrels of idled production because of another pipeline leak in the neighboring Kuparuk field, is trimming state oil revenue by about $960,000 a day at current oil prices of around $60 a barrel, said Michael Williams, chief economist with the Alaska Department of Revenue.

If the production cut lasts two more weeks, it'll mean some $26 million less into state coffers this budget year.

Kemp Copeland, BP's Prudhoe Bay field manager, said company engineers are working to restore at least some Prudhoe production by diverting oil that normally flows through the damaged 34-inch pipeline into a nearby 24-inch line. To do that, workers must link the two pipelines by laying a 10-inch "jumper" pipeline about the length of a football field.

The bypass could start up in two weeks but would restore only 50 percent to 75 percent of the idled production, said Maureen Johnson, a BP senior vice president.

Meanwhile, the 34-inch pipeline will be out of service for up to six weeks while it is repaired and tested to make sure it doesn't have any other serious corrosion problems, she said.

A massive cleanup of spilled oil continues in harsh winter conditions.

Pollution control officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation say about 60,000 gallons of oil has been recovered from a spill estimated at 201,000 gallons, or 4,790 barrels. The oil has covered almost 2 acres of tundra, including the edge of a frozen lake.

The spilled oil was enough to fill 25 tractor-trailer tank trucks but a tiny amount compared with Prudhoe's normal daily production of 490,000 barrels a day. The average well in Prudhoe, the nation's largest oil field, averages 500 barrels per day, Copeland said.

BP managers and DEC officials said the pipeline's leak-detection system was working, but no alarm sounded for field workers, most likely because the oil leaked too slowly over time to trigger it.

By regulation, the system must detect leaks involving 1 percent or more of a pipeline's daily oil flow. In this case, 1 percent would equal about 1,000 barrels, leading Johnson to figure the leak must have persisted for at least five days given the spill's estimated size of nearly 5,000 barrels. Otherwise, the leak volume would have been large enough to set off an alert.

"We believe the leak probably started as a pinhole and grew over time and was too small to be detected by our system," Johnson said.

Johnson said BP and DEC investigators are looking into whether too little anti-corrosion chemicals were flowing down the pipeline from Gathering Center 2, a plant that separates water from oil. That or other chemical factors might have caused the increased corrosion seen in the pipe over the last six months, eventually leading to a hole about a quarter-inch wide and a half-inch long, she said.

A different section of the same pipeline didn't show the same corrosion problem, Johnson said.

BP plans to work with DEC on ways to detect smaller spills that might evade leak detectors, Johnson said. One idea might be to increase the use of aerial infrared surveys, which can spot warm oil obscured by snow.

Snow hid most of the Prudhoe spill, which a BP field worker reported after smelling oil as he drove by early on the morning of March 2.

On Monday, the mayor of the North Slope Borough accused BP of failing to use the best available technology to detect leaks in Prudhoe's vast and aging pipeline network. Lydia Miner, a DEC official, said Tuesday that the state had started a comprehensive review of spill-prevention regulations, including leak detection, long before the Prudhoe spill occurred.

BP runs Prudhoe and owns 26 percent of the production. The biggest Prudhoe owners are Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips, each with about 36 percent.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 14, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7531594p-7443552c.html

Slope mayor questions leak detection
OIL SPILL: Clean-up complimented as crews pick up 60,000 gallons.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 14, 2006
Last Modified: March 14, 2006 at 01:47 AM

The ongoing effort to clean up the North Slope's largest oil spill ever is "first-rate," but pipeline leak-detection equipment to prevent such spills is lacking, the region's mayor said Monday.

A major pipeline carrying crude oil away from a processing plant known as Gathering Center 2 sprang a leak, sending an estimated 201,000 gallons, or 4,790 barrels, of crude oozing over nearly 2 acres of tundra. That's enough oil to fill 25 tractor-trailer tank trucks.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation said clean-up workers have recovered about 60,000 gallons of the spilled oil using vacuum trucks and other methods while working in subzero temperatures.

The spill is near the heart of pipeline-laced Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field. BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. runs the field on behalf of itself and other owners, including Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips.

"BP's response to this spill has been first-rate," North Slope Mayor Edward Itta said Monday. "I'm very pleased with the speed of their response, the amount of resources they have mobilized, and the degree of communication they have maintained."

Itta added: "The industry uses state-of-the-art equipment to find the oil and get it out of the ground, and I'd like to see them use the best available technology to prevent major spills like the one at GC-2. That's not happening right now."

Itta sent a letter to DEC Commissioner Kurt Fredriksson, the state's top pollution control official, endorsing a joint BP-state investigation into the leak-detection system on the 34-inch pipeline. The borough also wants "an audit of other pipelines with similar leak-detection systems."

The North Slope Borough is the local government for the Minnesota-sized territory across the top of Alaska, including the Slope's many oil fields.

Over the past year, the borough twice urged DEC to require better leak-detection equipment than that used on the failed Prudhoe Bay pipeline, Itta's letter adds. The borough said currently available leak detectors are capable of performing more than twice as well as those the state now requires.

Fredriksson could not be reached for comment Monday. DEC spokeswoman Lynda Giguere said the agency had not yet seen Itta's letter.

Corrosion is suspected of causing a quarter-inch hole in steel pipeline.

Now patched and no longer leaking, the line remains shut down and North Slope oil production is down by 95,000 barrels a day, or 12 percent of total Slope production. A BP spokesman has said it could be weeks before the pipeline is fixed or engineers figure out a way to reroute oil to bring production back to normal.

BP and DEC officials who are investigating the spill have said they're not yet sure whether the leak-detection system failed to work as designed.

It's possible, they said, that the leak was small and slow enough to escape detection. Under state regulations, the system is required to sound an alarm only if the flow through the pipeline drops by 1 percent or more over a 24-hour period. A DEC official said last week that the agency recently considered tightening that standard but decided not to.

Company spokesman Daren Beaudo said the leak-detection system was tested and "it complies with regulations."

A BP worker who was driving along a gravel road beside the pipeline early on the morning of March 2 discovered the spill after smelling oil.

Beaudo said investigators looked into a "rumor" that workers had first smelled oil many hours before that time.

"We have not been able to substantiate it as a fact," he said. "If someone knows something differently we would welcome that input, but we have not confirmed it to date. Everything we've found suggests it was discovered the morning of March 2."

The spill, though the largest on the North Slope, ranks fourth in terms of all spills involving Slope crude. The biggest came in 1989, when nearly 11 million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground. In 1978 nearly 672,000 gallons spilled near Fairbanks after saboteurs damaged the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to the tanker port at Valdez.

Five years ago 286,000 gallons sprayed out of a bullet hole in the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Clean-up workers continued work Monday on a second but far smaller spill in the Conoco-run Kuparuk oil field west of Prudhoe Bay. An inspection has turned up three breaches in a 24-inch line that carries water mixed with a trace of oil, DEC officials reported. Cleanup workers are still calculating the leak size, but DEC officials believe it's likely less than 500 gallons

 

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The Independent
March 14, 2006

http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article351121.ece

Burst oil pipeline causes 'catastrophe' in Alaska
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Published:14 March 2006

A burst pipeline in Alaska's North Slope has caused the Arctic region's worst oil spill, spreading more than 250,000 gallons of crude oil over an area used by caribou herds and prompting environmentalists again to question the Bush administration's drive for more oil exploration there.

The leak was first spotted by a British Petroleum worker 11 days ago, and was reported to have been plugged a few days later. Initial hopes expressed by BP that the spill was limited to a few tens of thousands of gallons proved to be over-optimistic. Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation has steadily increased its estimate of the size of the spill, the latest estimate putting it at around 265,000 gallons.

The leak, whose cause is unknown, occurred in a remote part of the most sparsely populated state in the United States, and it remains to be seen what damage, if any, it has done to ecosystems. It does, however, give grist to groups who have challenged Washington's assertion that oil can be prospected and shipped while leaving only the gentlest of "footprints" on the landscape.

"This historic oil spill is a catastrophe for the environment," Natalie Brandon, of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. "Tone-deaf politicians in Congress should now stop trying to push for more drilling through sneaky manoeuvres ... The fact that the oil spill occurred in a caribou crossing area in Prudhoe Bay is a painful reminder of the reality of unchecked oil and gas development across Alaska's North Slope."

The biggest battle has been over the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also on the North Slope, which the White House wants to open up. The initiative, championed from the moment the Bush administration took office in 2001, has been consistently blocked by Congress but is periodically revived.

A second battle, meanwhile, is taking place in a previously untouched corner of the National Petroleum Reserve on the North Slope. The Bush administration has allowed oil companies to prospect for oil and gas in an area covering 389,000 acres. Environmental groups have responded with a federal lawsuit, filed last Friday, in which they contend that the Department of the Interior has violated the Endangered Species Act and other laws in an area noted for its flocks of migratory geese.

It is not just environmentalists who oppose the administration's plans. Several prominent energy analysts, as well as Washington politicians, argue that the likely yield in unexplored areas of the North Slope is not large enough to justify the intrusion.

Alaskan politicians and industry lobby groups are heavily in favour of expanding exploration as it would bring jobs and other benefits to the state economy. The Bush administration, meanwhile, argues that further domestic exploration is essential if the United States wants to decrease its dependence on oil and gas from the Middle East.

Accidents and leaks have periodically occurred on the North Slope, and along the trans-Alaska pipeline that takes crude from Prudhoe Bay across two mountain ranges to the port of Valdez on the shores of the North Pacific. Saboteurs blew up a section of pipeline shortly after it opened in the 1970s, starting a major spillage. A hunter accidentally fired into the pipeline five years ago, causing $7m (£3.6m) worth of damage.

 

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Houston Chronicle
March 14, 2006

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/nation/3721760.html

Cold Slows Alaska Oil Spill Cleanup
By RACHEL D'ORO Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska  Heavily bundled crews are braving merciless cold to continue cleaning up the largest oil spill ever on Alaska's North Slope.

In recent days, the wind chill factor dipped to more than 70 degrees below zero at Prudhoe Bay, barely warming to 44 below on Monday as workers attacked the estimated spill of 267,000 gallons that seeped into almost two acres of snow-covered tundra.

About 60,000 gallons of crude have been recovered since the leak from a ruptured transit line was discovered March 2 at a site operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

"There's still a lot of work to be done under very trying conditions," said Dan Larson, a BP spokesman who visited the site.

Crews used a vacuum truck to recover oil that pooled in some places and carried fresh snow to other spots to absorb the crude. After transferring the contaminated snow to a concrete pad, the mixture will be melted and separated.

The crude will ultimately be treated and sold, according to BP officials. The goal is to collect at least 90 percent of it.

"Hopefully, the tundra will recover," said Ed Meggert with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. "It's never going to be perfect."

Officials emphasize the spill bears a small imprint, taking up a size smaller than two football fields in a vast industrial hub traversed by a network of pipelines, oil gathering stations and power plants. And despite the numbing conditions, the weather is actually helping recovery, turning oil thick as honey, so it doesn't spread as quickly as it would in warmer temperatures.

The Prudhoe incident surpasses the 38,000 gallons spilled on the North Slope in 2001, but is much less than the 11 million gallons spilled in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.

The source of the spill was a quarter-inch hole apparently caused by corrosion inside the three-mile line that leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Workers on Saturday repaired the rupture, welding a metal sleeve on a six-foot section of the line. Crews are inspecting the line to determine if it can withstand resuming production.

The plant, 650 miles north of Anchorage, usually processes 100,000 barrels of oil daily. Full production is not expected to resume for a week or more, said BP incident commander James Fausett.

For now, a six-inch pipeline is being used for production of 5,000 barrels daily. BP also is looking at a plan to reroute the crude through another pipeline.

Critics say the spill is the latest result of the oil industry's failure to properly maintain the North Slope's aging infrastructure. The North Slope is the region between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean and contains most of Alaska's petroleum reserves.

The pipeline is equipped with a leak detection system, but officials do not know when the crude began trickling out of the line. BP will investigate whether the system was working at the time, Fausett said.

The extent of regulatory penalties BP faces is unknown. Officials with the state DEC said the company could be fined close to $2 million.

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 11, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7521431p-7433569c.html

Spill the largest in Slope's history
INVESTIGATION: Pipeline's leak detection system is under scrutiny after 200,000 gallons were lost.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 11, 2006
Last Modified: March 11, 2006 at 02:30 AM

State pollution regulators are focusing on a pipeline leak-detection system as they investigate what led to a 201,000-gallon oil spill, the largest by far in the 29-year history of oil production on Alaska's North Slope.

The regulators and field operator BP on Friday said the spill, discovered last week along a major, 34-inch pipeline near the heart of the country's largest oil field, was more than five times the size of the next largest oil spill.

The discharge, however, is small compared to the nearly 11 million gallons spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.

The pipeline and wells capable of producing about 95,000 barrels of crude oil, or 12 percent of total North Slope output, remained shut down Friday as BP workers tried to clean up the spill and figure out a way to restore oil production. The stalled oil flow is worth close to $6 million a day.

Vicious cold, with wind chill as low as 64 below, hampered all efforts.

Bill Hutmacher, a state Department of Environmental Conservation official who enforces industry spill-prevention regulations, said a joint government-industry team will investigate whether the pipeline's leak-detection system performed as required.

Under state law, the system must sound an alarm for field workers if the pipeline's oil flow dips by 1 percent or more in a 24-hour period.

If oil leaked over a period of days or weeks at a rate too low to trigger the alarm, BP and its leak-detection system might have met the legal standard, Hutmacher said, even though oil reached the tundra. Determining the rate of the leak is key, he said.

"That's part of what we have to determine," said Hutmacher. "Were they in compliance with the regulations? Was the system functioning?"

Beyond that, state officials will consider whether spill-prevention regulations are stringent enough, he said.

Daren Beaudo, spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., which runs Prudhoe, said his company remains unsure how it could have missed 201,000 gallons of oil, or 4,790 barrels, that leaked from the pipeline.

That's enough oil to fill 25 tractor-trailer tank trucks commonly seen on U.S. highways.

"We hope to have some preliminary results by early next week," Beaudo said of the investigation.

Asked whether the pipeline's leak-detection system sounded an alarm, he said: "I don't know."

A BP field worker who happened to be driving on a gravel road alongside the pipeline discovered the leak early on the morning of March 2. The smell tipped him off.

"Even when we went looking for the source of the oil smell, responders had trouble finding the oil due to snow," Beaudo said.

Workers this week pinpointed the source of the leak: a quarter-inch hole, likely caused by internal corrosion, at a point where the steel pipe crosses under a gravel caribou crossing. A caribou crossing is a mound of gravel placed over elevated, above-ground North Slope pipelines to allow the animals to walk over.

The spill size estimate DEC and BP announced jointly Friday is subject to change. The spilled oil, which covered just shy of 2 acres including the edge of a frozen lake, could range from 135,000 to 268,000 gallons, they said. Cleanup workers had recovered 53,000 gallons as of Friday morning.

BP is studying alternatives for restoring oil production, Beaudo said. One is restarting the pipeline once the now-patched 3-mile line is permanently fixed. Another is rerouting oil production through another, smaller pipeline.

Either way, it "will be a couple of weeks before we have a solution," he said.

The frozen ground will make the cleanup easier and more effective, BP and state officials said.

Hutmacher added: "This is the last thing that any oil company wants to have happen. Just think of the extreme costs involved in dealing with the incident."

BP runs Prudhoe and owns 26 percent of the production. The biggest Prudhoe owners are Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips, each with about 36 percent.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

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http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7521430p-7433568c.html

Small Kuparuk River spill halts oil flow at 15 wells
NORTH SLOPE: Trace of crude mixed with water leaks onto tundra.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 11, 2006
Last Modified: March 11, 2006 at 02:26 AM

State pollution regulators on Friday reported another North Slope pipeline leak, this time in the Kuparuk River oil field west of Prudhoe Bay.

The spill involved mainly water with only a trace of crude oil mixed in, they said. It leaked from a 24-inch pipeline near a drilling pad on the western edge of Kuparuk, the state's second-largest oil field.

Leslie Pearson, spill response coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the spill most likely involves less than 500 gallons of liquid, she said.

"It's kind of a minor spill," Pearson said.

Still, the leak forced a shutdown of the pipeline and 15 wells, halting the flow of as much as 4,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

Conoco Phillips Alaska Inc. runs Kuparuk. Spokeswoman Dawn Patience said a drill-site operator Thursday afternoon saw an icicle hanging off the pipeline, indicating a leak.

Conoco had about 12 spill responders on the scene Friday, working in temperatures down to 35 below. They placed a portable tank under the pipe to catch leaking water. The DEC reported the spill had affected a bedroom-sized area of snow-covered tundra.

The spilled liquid is known as produced water. Typically, North Slope wells send up a mixture of hot crude oil and water, and this water is separated and moved through pipelines.

Pollution officials say produced water, which is sometimes salty, can be as harmful to tundra plant life as oil.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 10, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/environment/story/7519250p-7431265c.html

 Oil spill is the North Slope's biggest ever
By RACHEL D’ORO
Associated Press Writer
Published: March 10, 2006
Last Modified: March 10, 2006 at 11:11 AM

More than 200,000 gallons of crude leaked from a ruptured transit line onto the tundra in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, making the spill discovered earlier this month the largest ever on the North Slope, according to an official estimate released Friday.

The estimated spill size of 202,000 to 267,000 gallons far surpasses the 38,000 gallons spilled in 2001, officials said. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons when it ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989.

“I can confirm it’s the largest spill of crude oil on the North Slope that we have record of,” said Linda Giguere with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. She did not immediately know when the state began record keeping on spills, but said it was not in place when the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was built in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, officials on Friday reported another leak on the North Slope, this time in a 24-inch diameter pipeline carrying crude and water from wells to a processing plant operated by ConocoPhillips.

The spill in the Kuparuk field was discovered by a ConocoPhillips operator Thursday afternoon. Neither the cause nor volume of crude spilled in this leak was immediately known, but it was not expected to be as large as the BP spill, said DEC spokesman John Dixon.

“I’d be surprised if it even exceeds 500 gallons,” he said.

The estimate on the largest spill was based on a survey conducted this week at the site operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. where the leak was discovered March 2. Workers took measurements by probing the snow covering much of the crude that leaked from the 34-inch line.

The source of the spill was a quarter-inch hole apparently caused by internal corrosion in the three-mile line that leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

To date, workers have recovered 52,920 gallons ˜ or 1,260 barrels ˜ of crude. The effort has been slowed in recent days by wind-chilled temperatures that dipped to more than 70 degrees below zero.

The plant, 650 miles north of Anchorage, usually processes 100,000 barrels of oil daily ˜ slightly less than 10 percent of the daily flow through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. For now, a six-inch pipeline is being used for production of 5,000 barrels daily.

Production is not expected to resume for at least two weeks, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said earlier this week.

The plant usually processes 100,000 barrels of oil daily ˜ slightly less than 10 percent of the daily flow through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. For now, a six-inch pipeline is being used for production of 5,000 barrels daily.

˜
On the Net:

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.:
http://alaska.bp.com/

Unified Command information site:
http://www.dec.state.ak.us

 

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Los Angeles Times
March 9, 2006

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-na-spill9mar09,1,6038878.story?coll=la-news-a_section

 Crude Leak Plugged in Alaska Pipeline
Fiercely cold conditions are hampering efforts
to clean up the oil spill from a corroded pipe.
By Sam Howe Verhovek
Times Staff Writer
March 9, 2006

SEATTLE  At least 20,000 gallons of crude oil have spilled from a corroded pipeline near Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska, state officials said Wednesday, adding that cleanup crews were hampered by severe conditions such as wind-chill temperatures of 50 degrees below zero.

The leak has been plugged, and cleanup crews with giant vacuum trucks known as "super suckers" have been deployed to gather the spilled oil, said Lynda S. Giguere, a spokeswoman for Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation.

The quarter-inch hole in the 34-inch-wide pipeline, about 650 miles north of Anchorage, was detected last Thursday.

It is at a point in the line covered by a mound of gravel designed to let caribou cross the pipeline.

An official estimate of the size of the spill is not expected until today, Giguere said. Cleanup crews have recovered about 58,000 gallons (or approximately 1,380 barrels) of crude oil mixed with snow from the frozen tundra, she said, adding that no determination had been made on how much of it was crude or how severe the environmental impact would be.

The largest spill on record along the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline occurred shortly after it opened in 1978, when vandals blew up a section, causing about 700,000 gallons to escape. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons when it ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

In 2001, a man fired his hunting rifle into the pipeline, creating a leak that spilled about 285,000 gallons onto the tundra and led to a $7-million cleanup. Authorities arrested the 37-year-old hunter and he was convicted on federal weapons charges; it was not considered a terrorist incident. Pipeline operators say that it has been shot at through the years at least 50 times, but that the incident was the first time a bullet had punctured the double-steel-walled pipeline.

The spill on the North Slope occurred in a "feeder line" to the main pipeline, causing a shutdown of that line and a temporary drop in overall production.

Alaska is a major source of oil for West Coast refineries.

The pipeline is supposed to be monitored for any evidence of a drop-off that could signal a leak in the system; and when a leak is detected, the pipeline is shut off to limit the fallout.

Some industry watchdogs say the aging pipeline will become increasingly vulnerable to corrosion. "It's like a garden hose going bad on you," said Chuck Hamel, a former oil and tanker broker who runs a website that monitors Alaska oil development. "You patch one leak but then you'll get another."

But a spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., which runs the section of the pipeline that leaked, disputed that characterization.

"We have a very aggressive, robust corrosion monitoring program," said the spokesman, Daren Beaudo.

He said the company thought it had a "very effective cleanup" going on.

Pipeline operators say that spills have amounted to less than a teaspoon in a swimming pool when compared to the overall volume of oil delivered.

In 1999, six pipeline employees wrote anonymously to federal officials arguing that neglect and maintenance cuts on the pipeline could lead to disaster.

"It won't be a single gasket, or valve, or wire, or procedure, or person that will cause the catastrophe," the employees wrote. "It will be a combination of small, perhaps seemingly inconsequential events and conditions that will lead to the accident that we're all dreading and powerless to prevent."

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 9, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7515935p-7427777c.html

 Brutal cold challenges spill cleanup
PRUDHOE BAY: 58,590 GALLONS OF CRUDE, SNOW HAVE BEEN RECOVERED.
By RACHEL D'ORO
The Associ
Published: March 9, 2006
Last Modified: March 9, 2006 at 03:58 AM

Crews continued to clean up a massive oil spill in Alaska's North Slope despite wind-chilled temperatures Wednesday that plunged to 54 degrees below zero.

Workers wore arctic gear and took frequent breaks to guard against frostbite, slowing the recovery of crude that leaked onto the snowy tundra from a ruptured transit line, spill responders said. With temperatures expected to approach 60 degrees below zero in coming days, the effort could be further challenged.

"If it's too cold to work, we won't work," said Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. "We're not going to jeopardize people's safety and health. We won't put them in harm's way."

Crews have recovered 58,590 gallons -- or 1,395 barrels -- of crude and snow since the spill was discovered March 2 in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, about 650 miles north of Anchorage. Most of the recovered material will likely turn out to be crude once the water is separated out, officials said.

It that prediction comes true, the spill could be the largest ever in the North Slope, surpassing the 38,850 gallons spilled in 1989.

Lynda Giguere with the Alaska Department of Conservation said officials should have an estimate today of how much crude spilled onto a two-acre area from the three-mile line, which leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Earlier this week, oil industry critic Chuck Hamel said on-site personnel told him that about 798,000 gallons had spilled. But Hamel, of Alexandria, Va., said Wednesday he misinterpreted the information.

Beaudo said that number is a "rough estimate" of the volume the 34-inch line could hold.

The bulk of the oil remains inside the pipeline, which was shut down, depressurized and blocked off at both ends after the spill was discovered by a BP operator. Workers have temporarily patched a quarter-inch hole apparently caused by internal corrosion. They've also tented the affected section to allow heating for testing the integrity of pipeline.

In this week's extreme temperatures, the oil remaining in the line has the consistency of 50-weight motor oil. But company officials don't foresee any problems from the cold even though production is not expected to resume for at least two weeks, according to Beaudo.

The plant usually processes 100,000 barrels of oil daily -- slightly less than 10 percent of the daily flow through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. For now, a six-inch pipeline is being used for production of 5,000 barrels daily.

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Anchorage Daily News
March 8, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7512346p-7424002c.html

 Oil leak escaped monitor
PRUDHOE BAY: Spill estimate due by Thursday; output down $6 million a day.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 8, 2006
Last Modified: March 8, 2006 at 04:14 AM

The state four years ago fined BP $300,000 and ordered it to install an accurate leak-detection system on major Prudhoe Bay crude oil pipelines, including one that recently sent more than 21,000 gallons of oil oozing onto the tundra.

But the system didn't alert oil-field workers to that leak along the pipeline. Rather, it was a worker who happened to be driving down a gravel road next to the line and smelled oil who sounded the alarm early last Thursday.

The spill is one of the largest in the 29-year history of production at Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, and a massive cleanup effort continues in subzero weather.

State pollution regulators found BP was behind schedule on installing leak-detection systems required by law and issued the company an order in May 2002 to hurry up the work.

BP complied, adding equipment designed to alert field workers whenever the daily flow of oil through a pipeline dips by 1 percent or more, suggesting a possible leak. Company tests showed the systems worked at that time.

Maureen Johnson, BP's senior vice president for Prudhoe Bay, said the company will investigate whether the leak-detection system failed, or if field workers didn't respond correctly to indications the pipeline was leaking. Responses might have included driving or flying along the 3-mile pipeline to check, she said.

Johnson added she expects the state to fine or otherwise punish BP for the spill.

"If you mess up, you expect to be penalized for that," she said.

BP and pollution regulators with the state Department of Environmental Conservation jointly announced Tuesday that they had pinpointed the source of the leak -- a quarter-inch hole at the bottom of the steel pipe inside a culvert underneath a caribou crossing.

A caribou crossing is a gravel mound placed over pipelines to allow the migratory animals to walk over.

Internal corrosion is suspected of causing the hole, BP and DEC officials said.

Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman, said the 34-inch pipeline -- which carried oil from a processing plant known as Gathering Center 2 to the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline -- has corroded spots that are regularly inspected and chemically treated to prevent the pipeline wall from thinning further or rupturing.

However, he said the section of pipe in the culvert was not a known trouble spot.

"Our people were genuinely surprised and did not anticipate a problem in this area," Beaudo said.

But the many caribou crossings in the vast Prudhoe Bay field have caused worry.

In 2003, BP promised the state it would check all caribou crossings in search of standing water in the culverts or other problems. Water is a mortal enemy of pipelines, triggering corrosion that can quickly eat through steel. BP made the promise after three small holes developed in a 24-inch pipeline, allowing 1,500 gallons of crude oil and 4,500 gallons of oily water to leak, covering nearly an acre.

The spill discovered last week is much more serious.

At 21,000 gallons, the spill is the sixth-largest ever on the North Slope. The largest was 38,850 gallons in the Milne Point field in 1989.

DEC officials say spilled oil from the Gathering Center 2 pipeline has affected close to 2 acres, reaching the edge of a frozen tundra lake. The volume of spilled oil is likely to grow larger as cleanup workers -- 60 of them working day and night -- continue to recover oil using vacuum trucks.

The agency said it expects to have a full estimate of the spill size by Thursday.

BP workers glued a temporary rubber patch over the hole.

The line remains shut down indefinitely, pinching oil production by about 95,000 barrels per day or 12 percent of total North Slope output. The interrupted oil is worth close to $6 million a day at Tuesday's closing price.

The leak-detection system relies on meters at either end of the pipeline to measure the amount of oil going in and coming out. The system is supposed to sound an alarm in a Prudhoe control room if the daily oil flow unexpectedly dips by 1 percent or more.
The Gathering Center 2 pipeline was among a handful of important "transit" or "sales" pipelines -- lines that carry processed oil ready for market -- covered under the state's 2002 leak-detection order.

Less than a year after receiving the order, BP asked the state to lift it. The company provided test results showing the leak-detection systems worked, including that on the Gathering Center 2 pipeline.

BP testers had diverted some oil going through the line to simulate a leak, and an alarm sounded 13 hours later, according to a BP letter to DEC.

Sam Saengsudham, a DEC environmental engineer, reviewed the test results and concurred the leak-detection systems worked, according to an internal DEC e-mail the agency provided Tuesday. However, he also recommended that the pipelines be patrolled regularly "as an integral part" of detecting leaks.

Although Prudhoe is a sprawling and highly productive field, the smell of oil like that noticed by the field worker last Thursday is uncommon, Beaudo said. He said he didn't know how often workers travel the road along the leaky pipeline.

It's possible the pipeline's leak-detection system wouldn't notice a very small, low-volume leak that persisted for perhaps weeks from a tiny hole, slowly sending oil across the tundra where it could be concealed by heavy snow, Beaudo said.

Johnson also noted that the leak-detection systems are not fail-safe and can be affected by "noise" such as sediment accumulation in pipelines.

Many Prudhoe pipelines have no leak-detection system, but workers check all of them regularly by driving by or flying over with infrared equipment that can spot escaped oil, which comes out of the ground hot, Beaudo said.


Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

 

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The Wall Street Journal
March 8, 2006

Alaska Oil-Storage Shutdowns Pose Risk of a Supply Disruption
By Jim Carlton

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline in recent years has shut down about one-fifth of its oil-storage capacity at the port of Valdez, Alaska, creating what some local, state and federal officials say is an increased risk of disruption to one of the nation's largest sources of domestic oil.

The pipeline's operator took out of service four of the 18 oil-storage tanks at Valdez that store Alaskan North Slope crude, in a 2004 move it said was partly aimed at cutting costs. The concern of some officials now is that the remaining tanks may not be enough of a buffer against the pipeline -- which transports oil from Alaska's North Slope to the port city of Valdez -- being shut down, should factors such as bad weather prevent ships from loading crude. A shutdown could cause water in the pipeline to freeze, possibly damaging the line and disrupting a major West Coast petroleum supply.

"If that situation were to occur, it would create a real problem," cutting oil to refineries, said John Harris, speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives and a Republican whose district includes Valdez. Mr. Harris, who was contacted about the concern by constituents, said this week that he plans to ask the pipeline's operators to bring the idled tanks back into commission.

Last week Chuck Hamel, a frequent critic of the Alaskan oil industry, sent a letter to House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, (R., Calif.) and several other lawmakers alerting them to what he termed are potential disruptions of supplies after workers contacted him about their concerns over the matter. A spokesman for Mr. Pombo said the chairman couldn't address "hypothetical" problems. Oil inventories at Valdez have surged to between 80% and 90% of capacity 10 times over the past year, according to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, a community group that has raised concerns.

A Coast Guard official two years ago urged in a letter that the pipeline's operator put the tanks back into commission. The "capacity of oil storage at the Valdez Marine Terminal directly impacts the ability of the entire oil transportation system from the North Slope to the West Coast to absorb transportation delays or other disruptions," said M.A. Swanson, then commander of the Coast Guard's station in Prince William Sound, in the July 28, 2004, letter to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. Alyeska operates the 800-mile pipeline for a consortium that includes British energy giant BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

Alyeska spokesman Mike Heatwole said a prolonged pipeline shutdown is a remote possibility. Oil can usually be moved around in the pipeline more slowly to prevent freezing, he said, adding that the flow has been slowed only once in the past two years because of an inventory spike at Valdez. Alyeska hasn't decided what to do with the idled tanks yet, he said. Officials of the Joint Pipeline Office, a state-federal agency that oversees Alyeska, said they don't see the idled tanks as a major concern.

The issue is part of a larger concern over how industry can adapt to declining Alaska-oil production, which is down to about 900,000 barrels a day from a peak of about two million. Industry officials at the Alaskan fields are seeking ways to cut costs as production declines. BP recently considered using the idled tanks to store crude imported from the Mideast and West Africa, according to an Alyeska document prepared in December. The foreign oil would then have been shipped to BP's refineries in Carson, Calif., and Cherry Point, Wash., according to the document. Those refineries have limited ability to expand storage facilities. BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said the company is no longer pursuing that proposal.

Separately, Alaska officials are investigating the spill last Thursday of several thousand barrels of crude from a ruptured pipeline at the Prudhoe Bay field, which BP operates. BP officials said a cleanup shouldn't be too difficult because it covers only about two frozen acres. BP has suspended production of about 95,000 barrels a day, about 10% of the flow to Valdez, while it cleans up. State officials said the spill will probably rank as the biggest on the North Slope but doesn't come close to the 1989 spill of about 300,000 barrels from the Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound.

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 7, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7510267p-7421918c.html

 Slope oil spill likely to keep growing
21,000 GALLONS: Prudhoe Bay's
sixth-largest cleanup has crews busy.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 7, 2006
Last Modified: March 7, 2006 at 04:43 AM

Large Spill Table:
http://www.adn.com/ips_rich_content/844-07NorthSlopeSpills-150-x-138.gif

At least 21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a leaky pipeline in the Prudhoe Bay field, according to an estimate from BP and the state.

That's the amount of oil cleanup workers recovered by 5:45 p.m. Friday, 36 hours after discovery of the leak.

The spill ranks as the sixth-largest oil spill ever on the North Slope, and the size is likely to increase once cleanup workers fully assess the extent of the spill. The largest was 38,850 gallons at the Milne Point field in 1989, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

State officials said Monday they were implementing a three-pronged plan to determine the full size of the spill.

"We will determine volume estimates in a scientific and systematic fashion," said Leslie Pearson, a DEC on-scene coordinator.

Officials said Monday that about 1,260 barrels -- or nearly 53,000 gallons -- of oil and snowmelt had been recovered in cleanup operations.

A BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. operator found the leaking oil and the line was blocked off and depressurized, but the source of the leak eluded investigative teams for nearly three days.

The exact location of the leak was discovered at 1:40 a.m. Sunday inside a low-lying section of the 34-inch transit line, which leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The section where the leak occurred, about 650 miles north of Anchorage, is covered by gravel to let caribou pass.

State officials Monday said three methods will be used to come up with an accurate estimate of the size of the spill:

• Site sampling, which includes probing the spill area and determining oil thickness;

• Volume accounting of recovered material, which includes calculating the amount of oil that remains after water removal;

• Engineering calculations based on oil flow rate, hole size and length of time of the spill.

The Unified Command, comprising representatives from BP Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the North Slope Borough and DEC, said Monday it continues to focus efforts on oil recovery and cleanup.

An investigation team member from BP's Houston office was traveling Monday to Prudhoe Bay to work with regulatory agencies to begin collecting data and help determine the cause of the release.

FOR MORE about the spill, go to

www.alaska.bp.com
 
www.dec.state.ak.us
 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 6, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7506920p-7418059c.html

 Source of Prudhoe Bay oil spill found
GURGLING: Worker heard leak; critic says
spill is 798,000 gallons.
By RACHEL D'ORO
The Associated Press
Published: March 6, 2006
Last Modified: March 6, 2006 at 02:35 AM

A bubbling sound early Sunday helped workers pinpoint a leak in a pipeline that allowed a sizeable amount of crude oil to spill onto the frozen tundra at Prudhoe Bay.

State, federal and oil company officials said the total amount of oil spilled is still not known, but they discounted claims by an oil industry critic that the spill was much larger than BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is saying.

The breach was discovered at 1:40 a.m Sunday inside a low-lying section of the 34-inch transit line, which leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The section where the leak occurred is covered by gravel to let caribou pass.

"All kinds of technology has been brought to the North Slope, and the way it was actually found was that someone heard a gurgling noise, put some lights on it, and saw it," Maureen Johnson, BP manager of the Prudhoe Bay unit, said during a briefing with reporters.

The source of the leak was found after enough snow had been removed from the site. The spill, discovered Thursday by a BP operator, prompted the company to shut down the processing plant, depressurize the line and block off both ends, but workers Sunday found oil still dripping from the breach.

"It's like putting a straw in a soft drink and a finger on the straw. The fluid stays in the straw," said Matt Carr, onsite coordinator for federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"Of course it's not a perfect seal. There's a little bit of dripping, but it's not a huge active leak."

With the location of the leak known, officials will focus on determining a cause, repairing the line and continuing the cleanup of spilled oil. Johnson said the spill, about 650 miles north of Anchorage, has affected an area of slightly less than two acres.

As of Sunday afternoon, crews had recovered 1,097 barrels -- or more than 46,074 gallons -- of crude and snowmelt.

The amount spilled is far greater than BP and government officials are saying, according to oil industry critic Chuck Hamel.

Hamel, of Alexandria, Va., said he learned from onsite personnel that the spill volume is closer to 798,000 gallons, which would make it the second largest oil spill in Alaska, second only to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound.

Hamel said meters record the volume flowing into the pipe as well as the amount leaving it.

"There's a 798,000-gallon discrepancy," he said in a phone interview. He declined to provide documentation of the difference.

Hamel also said operators knew there was a leak at least 36 hours before the spill was found, because the smell of crude vapors was noted.

"They knew they had a problem," he said. "They could smell it, but they couldn't find it."

Johnson said the spill was discovered almost immediately after a worker smelled it. She said the spill size given by Hamel was news to her.

"I don't have any information about a spill that large," she said, adding the actual volume will eventually be determined. "We are going to find out. ... I don't think anyone could hide a fact like that."

The focus now is on recovering the oil, controlling and repairing the leak, and resuming full production as soon as possible, said Leslie Pearson, an on-scene coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

"We'll deal with rumors, but we're dealing with priorities here," she said.

BP and regulatory officials investigating the leak said much progress has been made in responding to the spill.

Crews have worked under considerable challenges, including temperatures dipping to 20 degrees below zero and deep snow hiding much of the spill. The leak was difficult to detect because oil can seep into insulation and the sheath surrounding the line, exiting at a distance.

"The progress has been just stunning," Johnson said.

 

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Seattle Post Intelligencer
March 5, 2006

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6420AP_AK_Prudhoe_Spill.html

 Location of Prudhoe Bay pipeline leak found
By RACHEL D'ORO
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Sunday, March 5, 2006 · Last updated 7:37 p.m. PT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A bubbling sound early Sunday helped workers pinpoint a leak in a pipeline that allowed thousands of gallons of crude oil to spill onto the frozen tundra in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.

State, federal and oil company officials said the total amount of oil spilled is still not known, but they discounted claims by an oil industry critic that the spill was much larger than BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is saying.

The breach was discovered at 1:40 a.m Sunday inside a low-lying section of the 34-inch transit line, which leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The section where the leak occurred is covered by gravel to let caribou pass.

"All kinds of technology has been brought to the North Slope, and the way it was actually found was that someone heard a gurgling noise, put some lights on it, and saw it," Maureen Johnson, BP manager of the Prudhoe Bay unit, said during a briefing with reporters.

The source of the leak was found after enough snow had been removed from the site. The spill, discovered Thursday by a BP operator, prompted the company to shut down the processing plant, depressurize the line and block off both ends, but workers Sunday found that oil is still dripping from the breach.

"It's like putting a straw in soft drink and a finger on the straw. The fluid stays in the straw," said Matt Carr, onsite coordinator for federal Environmental Protection Agency. "Of course it's not a perfect seal. There's a little bit of dripping, but it's not a huge active leak."

With the location of the leak known, officials will focus on determining a cause, repairing the line and continuing the cleanup of spilled oil. Johnson said the spill, located about 650 miles north of Anchorage, has affected an area slightly less than two acres.

As of Sunday afternoon, crews had recovered 1,097 barrels - or more than 46,074 gallons - of crude and snowmelt.

The amount spilled is far greater than BP and government officials are saying, according to oil industry critic Chuck Hamel. Hamel, of Alexandria, Va., said he learned from onsite personnel that the spill volume is closer to 798,000 gallons, which would make it the second largest oil spill in Alaska, second only to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound.

Hamel said meters record the volume flowing into the pipe as well as the amount leaving it.

"There's a 798,000 gallon discrepancy," he said in a phone interview. He declined to provide documentation of the discrepancy, however.

Hamel also said operators knew there was a leak at least 36 hours before the spill was found, because the smell of crude vapors was noted.

"They knew they had a problem," he said. "They could smell it, but they couldn't find it."

Johnson said the spill was discovered almost immediately after a worker smelled it. She said the spill size given by Hamel was news to her.

"I don't have any information about a spill that large," she said, adding the actual volume will eventually be determined. "We are going to find out ... I don't think anyone could hide a fact like that."

The focus now is on recovering the fuel, controlling and repairing the leak, and resuming full production as soon as possible, said Leslie Pearson, an on-scene coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

"We'll deal with rumors, but we're dealing with priorities here," she said.

BP and regulatory officials investigating the leak said much progress has been made in responding to the spill.

Crews have worked under considerable challenges, including temperatures dipping to 20 degrees below zero and deep snow hiding much of the spill. The leak was difficult to detect because oil can seep into insulation and the sheath surrounding the line, exiting at a distance.

"The progress has been just stunning," Johnson said.

On the Net:

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.: http://alaska.bp.com/

Unified Command information site: http://www.dec.state.ak.us
 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 5, 2006

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/7504030p-7415247c.html

 Workers yet to find breach in oil pipeline
PRUDHOE BAY: Crews have recovered 625 barrels of crude and snowmelt.
By RACHEL D'ORO
The Associated Press
Published: March 5, 2006
Last Modified: March 5, 2006 at 04:27 AM

Crews are slowly making progress cleaning up crude oil that spilled from a leaking pipeline in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field, industry and regulatory officials said Saturday.

Crews working in 12-hours shifts have recovered 26,250 gallons -- or 625 barrels -- of crude and snowmelt. But they still have not found the breach in the 34-inch line leading from a processing plant toward the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, said an official with BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

"We know where it isn't, not where it is," Maureen Johnson, BP manager of the Prudhoe Bay unit, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters.

The leaked oil, discovered Thursday morning by a BP operator, has affected slightly less than two acres, Johnson said.

After the spill was found, the company shut down the processing plant, depressurized the line and blocked off both ends. Existing and man-made snow berms contained the spread, according to state environmental regulators.

The origin of the leak is difficult to detect because oil can seep into insulation and the sheath surrounding the line, exiting at a distance from where it started, according to officials.

Until workers can pinpoint the breach, repairs can't begin. Finding it also will help point to a cause.

Crews have stripped insulation from possible areas and have narrowed the search to sections at a vertical support and a low-lying area that's covered by gravel to let caribou pass.

"We haven't ruled either of those locations out," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, minimal production was initiated, she said. A six-inch pipeline was pressed into service to begin production of 5,000 barrels daily. The plant usually processes 100,000 barrels of oil daily -- slightly less than 10 percent of the daily flow through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

Johnson said it's too early to say when full production will resume at the plant, located more than 200 miles east of Barrow.

Also unknown is the volume of oil released, said Leslie Pearson, an on-scene coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Much of the spill is not visible in the area, which is covered with snow. Hot oil under a leak melts snow but then spreads horizontally when it reaches frozen ground beneath the snow.

The cleanup work is continuing and involves using equipment and crews to vacuum and scoop the oil.

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Anchorage Daily News
March 4, 2006

http://www.adn.com/money/story/7499673p-7410669c.html

 Workers respond to Prudhoe spill
NORTH SLOPE: Leak may be one of largest in 29 years of production.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 4, 2006
Last Modified: March 4, 2006 at 06:04 AM

Crews of up to 70 people are working 12-hour shifts around the clock to clean up a crude oil spill in the giant Prudhoe Bay field, state pollution regulators and a BP spokesman said Friday.

Officials still had no estimate of how much crude leaked out of a large pipeline before a BP worker discovered the leak Thursday morning.

But by early Friday afternoon, the Department of Environmental Conservation reported that vacuum trucks working the site had sucked up nearly 21,000 gallons of oil and water.

North Slope oil production remained down by 100,000 barrels a day, or 12 percent, because the leak forced the shutdown of some wells and a major oil-processing plant. The oil is worth about $6 million per day at current prices.

Oil production will be reduced indefinitely, said Daren Beaudo, spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., which runs the nation's largest oil field.

Beaudo said it wasn't clear how many gallons of the recovered liquid were oil and how many were melted snow. Cleanup workers will know after the liquid, being held in a storage tank, settles out and separates, he said.

Judging by the scale of the state and industry response, the spill potentially could rank among the largest crude oil spills in 29 years of Prudhoe oil production.

Cleanup workers rallied a fleet of trucks, heavy equipment and even shovels to clear away snow from 3 to 5 acres of tundra to try to assess the spread of the oil.

A small army of workers reaching from Prudhoe to Deadhorse to Fairbanks to Anchorage tackled a range of tasks: clearing snow, applying for permits to work on the delicate tundra, building an ice road and work pad around the contaminated site, peeling back insulation on the pipeline to try to find the source of the leak, testing the air for fumes that could harm workers, and taking steps to prevent as many as 245 idled Prudhoe Bay wells from freezing up.

Temperatures down to 20 degrees below zero, plus a stiff breeze, made the whole operation tougher.

Fluids were freezing in the hoses leading into the vacuum trucks, and workers were swapping out frequently to avoid frostbite, according to a DEC status report.

The pipeline was plugged to prevent any more oil from leaking, Beaudo said.

Although workers Friday had peeled back much insulation off the pipeline, which is 34 inches in diameter, they still hadn't found any obvious holes through which the oil could have escaped, Beaudo said.

Cleanup workers say a trail of oil had reached a lake just north of the pipeline, but tests showed the lake was frozen to the bottom, he said. The fact that the tundra and lake are frozen will aid in the cleanup.

"You never want to have an oil spill," Beaudo said. "But if it happens, these are good conditions. Snow and ice work as an ally to protect the tundra underneath, and the water."

Beaudo revealed that the big pipeline, which carried oil from two processing plants known as gathering centers to the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline, had known interior and exterior corrosion damage.

Because of this, BP had downgraded the maximum pressure allowed within the line to help guard against rupturing its steel walls, he said. The pipeline was operating well within the reduced pressure limit when the leak was discovered, he said.

BP can test the integrity of pipelines by sending a bullet-shaped sensor known as a smart pig through the pipe. The last time a smart pig slid through the 34-inch pipe was 1998, Beaudo said. It was scheduled for pigging this summer, he said.

The DEC, which enforces state pollution laws, had numerous staffers on the scene Friday.

BP runs Prudhoe Bay on behalf of itself, Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips and other oil companies.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com   or 257-4590.

 

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Anchorage Daily News
March 3, 2006

http://www.adn.com/front/story/7496267p-7406770c.html

 Crude spill shuts down Slope plant
OIL: Leak discovered by BP worker may have covered five acres.
By WESLEY LOY
Anchorage Daily News
Published: March 3, 2006
Last Modified: March 3, 2006 at 03:17 AM

Crude oil leaking from a major North Slope pipeline might have oozed over 3 to 5 acres of frozen, snow-clad tundra, prompting a major cleanup effort Thursday, an oil company spokesman said.

The leak forced the shutdown of an oil-processing plant and about 245 wells in the giant Prudhoe Bay field, cutting Slope production by about 12 percent, or 100,000 barrels per day. At Thursday's closing oil price of $60.81, the interrupted oil flow is worth more than $6 million daily.

State pollution regulators and cleanup crews from BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., which runs Prudhoe, rushed to the spill site after a BP worker driving along a gravel road parallel to the pipeline at 5:45 a.m. Thursday saw and smelled crude oil on the tundra.

Aerial photos released jointly by BP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation showed a squiggly trail of oil running north from the large, above-ground pipeline, which is 34 inches in diameter.

Neither state officials nor BP spokesman Daren Beaudo could say how much oil was spilled.

But Beaudo said two trucks sent to vacuum up the oil had recovered 62 barrels of liquid as of Thursday afternoon. The company had to apply for a special permit from the state to allow the trucks to drive on the delicate tundra.

Corrosion is a constant threat to the Slope's spaghetti network of steel pipelines, causing many leaks in the past, and it's possible the pipeline developed a hole some time ago and was slowly leaking oil.

Beaudo said he didn't want to speculate on a cause, however, until workers peel back insulation and snowdrifts that partially cover the pipe and take a closer look. He did say, however, that the leak was not the result of, for example, a vehicle smashing into the line.

BP sent up an airplane equipped with an infrared camera to try to measure how widely the oil had spread. The oil is hot when it comes out of the pipeline, 180 degrees on average, but it cools and thickens when it hits the tundra, Beaudo said.

The pipeline carries crude oil from a processing plant called Gathering Center 2, on the western side of the Prudhoe field, about six miles to Pump Station 1, the starting point of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Prudhoe Bay is the country's largest oil field.

After the leak was discovered, BP shut down the gathering center, which separates the raw mixture of crude oil, natural gas and water piped in from the wells. From the center, the crude oil flows away in the 34-inch line.

The leak occurred just east of the gathering center, at a point where the pipe rests on a bracket that holds it a few feet off the ground.

BP workers plugged the line on either side of the leak to prevent more oil from spilling.

Ed Meggert, a DEC official in Fairbanks, said snow might be concealing the full size of the spill, which had reached a frozen lake north of the pipeline. Scores of lakes dot the North Slope tundra.

"We just know there's a fairly large pool out there," he said.

Weather was both friend and enemy to cleanup workers.

On one hand, the snow cover and frozen ground should help prevent oil from seeping into the tundra, killing plant life. But with temperatures reaching to 25 below zero Thursday night, plus a stiff breeze, BP wants to make sure workers have the right equipment and aren't exposed, Beaudo said.

Early on Thursday, spill responders stayed away from the pipeline because of dangerous fumes in the air.

Beaudo couldn't say how long the wells and gathering center will be out of service and the oil flow reduced. He also said it's hard to say how long the cleanup might take.

Workers plan to strip away snow from 3 to 5 acres to get at the spill, Beaudo said.

The frozen ground increases the chances of a full cleanup, he added.

"We can't say for certain, but it's our experience that we can get 100 percent of the oil cleaned up and that the tundra may not be impacted at all," he said. "That's our goal."

Because of its size, the leaky pipeline can accommodate a pig, which is a bullet-shaped device that slides down pipes to sense for weak spots in the steel wall or other problems.

The line had been pigged, but Beaudo could not provide details on whether any problems had been found.

The DEC sent two people to the oil field Thursday and planned to send four more today.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com or 257-4590.