ANCHORAGE - The slow process of restarting the trans-Alaska oil pipeline began this morning, according to pipeline officials.
The line that carries about a sixth of the nation's oil production was shut down Sunday in the wake of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that moved the line up to seven feet in places, but did not cause any leaks. Tanker loading at Valdez could resume as early as Thursday.
Aside from halting the oil flow, Sunday's quake caused major damage to roads and some other facilities. State officials said temporary repairs were in place allowing traffic to move on most major roadways. The cost of repairing quake-damaged roads will be in the neighborhood of $20 million, according to Joseph Perkins, commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
It was expected to take as long as six hours to bring the huge oil pipeline back to normal flow. The work was being done slowly so that any problems could be spotted quickly.
Marnie Isaacs of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. said today that aftershocks were continuing in the region around the damaged pipeline supports, and officials wanted to make sure temporary supports placed under the line in several places were adequate to deal with any new quakes.
The affected area is about 150 miles south of Fairbanks in an area that was known to be earthquake-prone when the line was built. Special measures were taken along that section of the line, which is above ground, to allow for movement in the event of a quake.
More than a dozen contractors worked around the clock to get the pipeline back in operation, with nearly 300 people on the job Tuesday, according to Mike Heatwole of Alyeska.
Oil was being pumped into the northern end of the line Tuesday to provide some storage for crude oil being produced from North Slope fields at a slim fraction of the normal rate. Some oil was being moved into tanks at the Williams Cos. refinery in North Pole.
The pipeline normally carries about a million barrels of oil to Valdez each day. That puts about $4 million into the state treasury each day the oil is flowing.
In a press conference Tuesday, state officials including Gov. Tony Knowles emphasized that the pipeline had performed as designed.
"I think it should be a note of real satisfaction for the people responsible for the maintenance of the pipeline that it did exactly what it's supposed to do in an earthquake. It bent but it did not break," Knowles said.
Oil producers on the North Slope were being limited to 3 percent of their normal production Tuesday, down from 5 percent earlier. But Paul Laird of BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. said no wells would have to be shut down if the pipeline flow was restored early today.
State emergency officials were meeting this morning to discuss state and federal emergency declarations for the areas affected by the earthquake, as well as the Kenai Peninsula floods and damage in Shishmaref from fall storms.
Across Alaska's road system, temporary repairs have gotten two-way traffic moving on all the major highways except the Tok Cutoff, according to Perkins of the DOT. The road to Mentasta also was down to a single lane with pilot cars.
Also damaged in the quake was the Northway airport. The runway surface dropped several inches in some areas, and that facility has been closed.
The earthquake churned up ocean-like waves on a Northwest lake, rippled swimming pools all over the country, and muddied many well-water users' tap water more than 3,000 miles away in Pennsylvania, geologists said.
Water levels on beaches on Galveston Bay in Texas showed changes unrelated to normal tides, and a Utah fisherman said a calm lake on which he was fishing broke into wavelets, said Waverly Person, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist in Golden, Colo.
"This type of phenomenon happens with big shallow earthquakes," Person said. "The surface waves from this earthquake were recorded for hours and they were just rolling around and around the earth."
Bill Bergstrom of The Associated Press in Philadelphia contributed to this report.