Oil flow resumes at Valdez

Alyeska hopes to return to normal throughput by today

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The loading of oil into tankers at the Valdez marine terminal has resumed after high winds forced a slowdown of crude through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

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Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, said Wednesday the wind was still blowing but the direction had changed, allowing loading operations to start again.

A decision was expected later on whether to allow more oil to flow down the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope.

Throughput was about 300,000 barrels a day, less than half of normal.

One tanker was loaded and left Wednesday morning and two more tankers were being loaded, Heatwole said.

Heatwole says Alyeska hoped by today to begin ratcheting up throughput to return to normal flow of about 800,000 barrels a day.

The amount of oil flowing through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was intentionally slowed on Tuesday because of high winds at the marine terminal in Valdez, where oil is loaded onto tankers for shipment to West Coast refineries.

The last tanker to leave Valdez was on Saturday night. Loading operations that were begun Sunday on a tanker were suspended Monday morning because of strong winds. That tanker remained partially filled Tuesday.

The strong, gusty winds began blowing in Valdez about a week ago, said Robert Vandegraft, meteorological technician at the National Weather Service in Valdez. The strongest gust of 83 miles per hour was recorded on Sunday.

Vandegraft said sustained winds have been blowing at between 30 and 46 miles per hour, but have diminished some and were expected to remain in the 15 to 30 mile per hour range with gusts to 45 mph over the next few days.

The terminal has 14 tanks with a capacity of 500,000 barrels each. The terminal usually operates with tank capacity in the 30 to 60 percent range but was closer to 90 percent on Tuesday, Heatwole said.

The pipeline was completely shut down for 10 hours last Thursday when the terminal's storage tanks reached capacity.

The flow of oil through the pipeline has been disrupted of late by more than high winds. A leak in an oil pipeline at Prudhoe Bay in early August cut production in half, where it remained for weeks until full production was restored last month.

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