Alaska Pipeline Shut

This is, as they say, “a problem”.

There’s a leak in the Trans Alaska pipeline. This has to be fixed, so they have shut it down. That means the oil in the line starts to cool. This oil will set up to be a tar / concrete like substance, and then the pipeline does not run again. Ooops…

So now there is a proposal to ‘restart’ the pipeline for a little bit to ‘reheat’ it. OK….


Alaska pipeline still shut down as crews build bypass line
Patti Epler | Jan 10, 2011

Workers are welding together a 170-foot section of pipeline that can serve as a bypass around an oil leak that has kept the trans-Alaska oil pipeline shut down since Saturday morning.

IIRC, you get about 1 week, max, and then the thing is out of commission until summer. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. …

More than 200 workers are involved in cleaning up the small spill at Pump Station 1 on the North Slope and coming up with a fix for the problem, which has caused a spike in oil prices. The 800-mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez normally carries about 630,000 barrels a day, or nearly 14 percent of the country’s crude oil supply, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline and shipping terminal for the five companies that own the facilities. So far, West Coast refineries are reporting no slowdowns but Alyeska officials say they don’t know when operations will resume.

The leak was discovered Saturday morning by workers who found oil on the floor of a booster pump building at the pump station. Alyeska officials said the leak appeared to be in a below-ground pipe that leads to the basement of the building. The pipe is encased in concrete and Alyeska crews still have not been able to get to it to determine the cause of the leak, according to Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for the company.

OK, the good news is that it’s in a pumping station. Not 100 miles of blizzard out in the middle of nowhere.

The bad news is that it’s inside concrete. Ouch.

The leak has been sealed off, she said, and now workers with Houston Contracting Co. in Fairbanks are constructing a bypass pipeline that will go around the damaged section and allow Alyeska to reroute the oil. The bypass line is a 24-inch diameter pipeline that, if stretched out, would run about 170 feet, she said.

IIRC, 24 inch is a bit on the small side, so this is not a ‘full flow’ solution. Most likely just getting ‘enough to not freeze up’ built. So even this fix is likely to leave a bit of reduction (then again, the main pipeline is likely running under full capacity as fields have matured, so next to the pumping station they may well be able to get the daily volume through 24 inches of pipe at enough pressure…

Cold temperatures, hovering around zero and even slightly below, are adding urgency to the situation. Alyeska has long been concerned about a winter shutdown of the pipeline because when the oil flow drops too low, water in the oil could freeze or the oil itself could turn to sludge causing serious problems. The company has been studying the problems and solutions of low flow and expects to have a report in a few months.

Pesznecker said Alyeska is trying to guard against that scenario by using other pump stations to move the oil that’s in the line periodically to warm it up. Workers are also closely monitoring the temperature at various places along the pipeline, she said.

This, as they say, is going to be interesting…. OK, weld some pipe, get it hooked in, heat some oil and start it flushing down the pipe. All doable. Just hope it doesn’t take an EIS out of DC to do it… and I hope the Obama Admin is not so stupid as to declare another “stop pumping” like they did the “stop drilling” in the Gulf. You stop that pipeline, we’re in 14% oil deficit for months to years as we figure out how to restart it.

USO Oil ETF  1 year daily interval chart  Live Data

USO Oil ETF 1 year daily interval chart Live Data

Looks like oil is running higher for a while. Not a strong trend, but the price is over the SMA stack and we’ve got DMI+ (blue) crossing over DMI- (red) down on that bottom ADX / DMI chart. With the low ADX number meaning a weak trend, you would be better to trade it cyclically using Slow Stochastic, but “buy the dips” and hold a while will work too. MACD is sort of a ‘steady sideways above zero’ that it does in things with slow stable uptrend. MACD crossovers are less useful in that context but a crossover upside would be nice to see.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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4 Responses to Alaska Pipeline Shut

  1. Bruce says:

    Once accidentally froze solid a tankful of NaOH solution. 40m3 worth – turned on the pump but nothing came out…looked in tank, er oops. Had to wait until spring for it to melt. Turned out we forgot to dilute the tanker solution from 50% (mp 13C) to 30% (mp -30C).

    A whole pipeline worth, eeew!

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    One of the “not very often talked about” reasons for doing more drilling on the north slope and ANWR is the simple fact that as yield drops off, the pipeline slows. At some point this interects a cold spell with disasterous freezup of the pipeline.

    You can only burn so much of the oil keeping it ‘hot but not moving much’ before it just doesn’t go any more.

    So right now we’re getting a bit of a peek at what’s to come if we don’t drill some more.

    Oh, and all those facilities UP stream from pumping station number one? They too have stopped pumping. Their pipes, too, are cooling. There is a whole spiders web of pipes getting colder and colder …. One hopes they don’t crack under the thermal cycling.

    This could be nothing (if fixed soon. Really soon.) or it could be a cascade failure of 14% of the nations oil supply for 1/2 a year or more.

    And it’s getting almost no air play and little notice.

  3. Earle Williams says:

    I’m happy to report that the trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is back online. It’s gotten good play here in Alaska on the radio and in the newspaper. I don’t watch tube news myself, so cannot comment on that. according to Anchorage public radio, there remains a small leak in pump station 1 and they are working on a bypass so that they can fix it properly. This was the second longest shutdown of TAPS.

  4. GregO says:

    Chiefio and Earle,

    Thanks for the story and the follow-up. Better news here at Musings of the Chiefio than MSM.

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