State OKs BP oil bypass line

Approval the first step in restarting field production

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

ANCHORAGE - BP has received permission from a state agency to use a bypass line to possibly restart some production from the shuttered eastern side of Prudhoe Bay.

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However, other agencies also must approve the plan, and BP hasn't decided whether to even use the bypass system, spokesman Steve Rinehart said Monday.

The plan approved late last week by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska would allow BP to divert oil through Endicott Pipeline Co. lines to the trans-Alaska pipeline. This would allow additional production of 105,000 barrels a day.

The entire Prudhoe Bay oil field had produced more than 400,000 barrels a day - or 8 percent of total U.S. output - until leaks and the discovery of pipe corrosion led the company to begin shutting down the eastern half of the field Aug. 6.

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Production from the western side of the field was about 200,000 barrels a day last week, with another 50,000 barrels coming from the adjacent Point McIntyre field.

Rinehart called the commission's approval a "necessary first step." The Alaska Oil and Gas Commission and the state Department of Natural Resources also must approve the plan, and federal officials must give the go-ahead to bring the field back online.

"When and if this bypass system will be used, that decision hasn't been made yet," Rinehart said. The approval was simply needed to start work on the bypass line.

Steve Marshall, the president of BP Exploration Alaska Inc., told a congressional hearing last week that full production could be restored by late October.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would have to authorize bringing the eastern side of the field back up. Rinehart said BP has conducted thousands of tests on the eastern transit line.

"We are gathering information, supplying it to the federal DOT, doing everything we can to answer their questions and satisfy them and us about the integrity of the transit line," he said.

BP has said it ultimately will replace 16 of 22 miles of transit lines. It expects to get replacement pipe by the end of the year, with construction beginning early next year.

The company is replacing the 34-inch transit pipe with smaller diameter pipe to increase the flow rate. That should help sweep out any solids and prevent bacteria from growing in sediment that settles at the bottom of the pipe. Bacteria may have caused the corrosion that led to the leaks in the lines. Excrement from the bacteria inside the pipes produces an acid that eats through carbon steel.

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