Upgrades Could Enable Pipeline to Safely Operate Below 500,000 Barrel Capacity

A new study on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System has an optimistic take on the problem of declining oil in the pipeline. At its peak, the pipeline had 2 million barrels of oil a day flowing through it. But today, it averages 600,000 barrels and that rate is declining. The new report was paid for by the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. It shows once throughput drops below 500,000 barrels a day, ice and wax can accumulate in the pipeline, but there are relatively easy fixes for the problems. Lois Epstein is an engineer who works for The Wilderness Society and reviewed the study.

With the upgrades, NRDC estimates the pipeline could operate safely for another three decades.  The NRDC report is a critique of a study released in June by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company which operates TAPS. The two documents agree on many points. But the Alyeska report highlighted the challenges of retrofitting the pipeline to handle the colder oil. In contrast, the NRDC report makes the case that those changes will be well worth it in the long run.

Alyeska says their report shows it’s much easier to increase the amount of oil in the pipeline than retrofitting it to handle lower flows. But Alyeska spokesperson Michelle Egan says the company can’t wait for that to happen. She says they are already making some changes. But she hopes the company won’t have to make the extensive adjustments necessary at very low flow rates:

The two reports disagree on how quickly TAPS will fall below 500,000 barrels a day. NRDC estimates it won’t happen until 2024, while Alyeska puts the date much earlier, around 2016.

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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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