ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The operator of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline says it has received government approval to restart it, three days after a leak was found near a pump station at Prudhoe Bay.
The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. says the plan is to restart the pipeline and warm things up to prevent ice and wax from building in the line.
The company says state and federal regulators gave the green light Tuesday afternoon to do what is being described as an "interim restart." Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan says the restart will allow some oil to begin flowing again.
The pipeline has been shut down since Saturday. Egan says alternative pipe can be used for now to move the oil.
The shutdown has been one of the longest since the pipeline began operating in 1977.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
With temperatures near single digits, concerns increased Tuesday that ice was forming and wax building up in the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline during a shutdown caused by a leak.
The pipeline that delivers about 13 percent of the country's domestic oil has been shut down since Saturday morning, and its operator, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., wants permission from regulators to temporary restart the flow.
Alyeska's Katie Pesznecker said there is a device known as a cleaning pig in the pipeline that could cause a problem when the pipeline is permanently restarted. When the oil begins moving again, the cleaning pig could push ice and naturally occurring wax into machinery and damage equipment, causing another shutdown, she said.
Alyeska hopes to temporarily restart the pipeline to move the cleaning pig to an area along the pipeline where it could be sidelined and captured. Pesznecker said a temporary restart would also warm the oil in the pipe.
Meanwhile, work continued on installing a bypass pipe so that the pipeline that serves the nation's largest oil field could be restarted. The shutdown that began at 8:50 a.m. Saturday is turning out to be one of the longest since the trans-Alaska pipeline began operating in 1977.
The pipeline was shut down and production cut by 95 percent when a leak was discovered near a pump station at Prudhoe Bay. The pump station is the last stop for crude before it enters the main line and is delivered to tankers in Valdez for delivery to the West Coast.
Plans called for installing a 157-foot bypass pipe to circumvent the area of the leak, which is in an underground pipe encased in concrete. A small amount of oil continues to drain into the basement of Pump Station 1. As of Tuesday afternoon, about 1,200 gallons had been sucked up.
The bypass pipe will connect one of three booster pumps to the main pipeline. An 800-gallon containment vault was being built near the pump station.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said it wasn't known whether oil from the leaky pipe reached the ground. Several groundwater drainage systems around the pump station were inspected overnight and were free of oil.
About 90 percent of Alaska's general fund revenues come from the petroleum industry, and the shutdown is costing the state of Alaska more than $18 million a day in taxes and oil royalties, said Lacy Wilcox with the Department of Revenue.
While that money will begin flowing once the pipeline is restarted, "today it is a loss," she said.
Alyeska had no prediction when the pipeline would be permanently restarted.
In May, a storage tank at one of the pump stations along the pipeline overflowed, forcing a shutdown that lasted three days, seven hours and 40 minutes. The pipeline's longest shutdown — again caused by a problem at a pump station — began on Aug. 15, 1977, a few months after the pipeline went into operation. It lasted four days, 14 hours and 11 minutes.
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