Study Show New Details on Declining Oil

A study released today lays out new details on an old problem: declining oil throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company conducted the study to learn more about how the pipeline will operate if the amount of oil continues to decline in the years ahead. Right now, about 600,000 barrels are flowing through the pipeline each day. Alyeska communications director Michelle Egan says when that amount drops below 550,000 barrels per day, the company will have to take measures to keep the oil warmer:

“There become problems with water dropping out, wax building up in the pipe and at very low levels, potential frost heaves that could damage the pipe.”

Alyeska is already testing different types of insulation it might use to prevent the oil from getting too cold. Another heating tactic the company pioneered during a shutdown last winter was running the oil back through each pump station. Egan says this study looked at mitigation measures that could work as long as the oil flow was above 350,000 barrels per day. She says below that level, things get more challenging.

“As we go from 600,000 lower, every year, every drop increases the complexity and the problems compound. And when you get to 350,000 it would take very extensive measures and it needs a lot more study.”

Alyeska says it will take about 10 years to reach that level at the current rate of decline. Egan says the best solution is to add more oil to the pipeline. She says the mitigation measures to keep the oil moving at low flow rates will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Environmental groups say that’s a small figure compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil that’s still in the ground on the North Slope.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie

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