FAIRBANKS - Sometime this summer the 16 billionth barrel of North Slope crude will flow down the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
The milestone comes as Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. prepares for a future with far less North Slope oil than in the boom days of the 1980s.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that 20 years ago the pipeline carried a peak of 2.1 million barrels of crude per day. In 2008, the pipeline carried 700,000 barrels per day.
The pipeline "is undergoing significant changes to adjust to the lower through-puts," company pipeline manager John Baldridge told business leaders Tuesday at a Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce meeting.
If major new oil fields are discovered, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or offshore reservoirs in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, Alyeska will have enough lead time to modify the system to accommodate a larger load, Baldridge said.
"We have the capability, with the new system, of going about 1 million barrels per day," Baldridge said.
Alyeska has spent more than $250 million since 2004 reconfiguring the pipeline, said spokeswoman Lynda Sather. The work involved installing electric-powered pumps at four stations, decommissioning other pump stations and upgrading and automating control systems.
The original system was designed to push oil up and down mountain passes through the 48-inch pipeline at full throttle. Pumps were fashioned from reconfigured jet engines, offering enough power to force as much oil as possible down the line. But that power isn't much good for lower volumes.
With less oil to push across Alaska, operators reduced the 10 pump stations to four. Three generate a big push north of the Brooks Range, sending oil up and across Atigun Pass. A fourth station, at Delta Junction, pushes oil across Isabel Pass in the Alaska Range and into Valdez.
The reconfiguration eliminated about 64 on-site station operator jobs, and added about 90 maintenance technician positions and additional spill response and right of way technicians, Baldridge said. Operations are run through a control center in Anchorage.
Alyeska operates the pipeline on behalf of five owners. BP Pipelines Alaska has a 47 percent stake in the line; ConocoPhillips Transportation Alaska, 28 percent; Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co., 20 percent; Koch Alaska Pipeline Co., 3 percent; and Unocal Pipeline Co., about 1.3 percent.
Information from Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, www.newsminer.com.