- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — BP PLC said yesterday it would keep one side of the nation’s largest oil field open as it replaces 16 miles of pipeline, averting a total shutdown that could have put a larger crimp in the nation’s oil supply.

The decision will allow BP to keep funneling up to 200,000 barrels of oil and natural gas from Prudhoe Bay. BP, which operates the oil field, previously had said it would have to shut down the field after revealing leaks and severe corrosion on the eastern side of the pipeline nearly a week ago.

BP said it decided to continue supplying oil out of the western side of the field after reviewing 1,400 ultrasound inspections on five miles of the pipeline, and discussing the matter with federal and state regulators.

BP said it will monitor the pipeline round-the-clock and use infrared cameras from the sky and the ground to detect small leaks. It will run a high-tech “smart pig” device through the line by November to search for weaknesses in pipe walls.

Two vehicles equipped with equipment to clear up any spills and carrying observers with infrared leak detection kits will patrol the line 24 hours a day, while engineers will visually inspect the line 10 times a day, BP said.

“The results have been encouraging and have increased our confidence in the operational integrity of this pipeline,” BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone said in a statement yesterday.

“With greatly enhanced surveillance and response capability, I am confident we can continue to safely operate the line,” he said.

The company said it is currently producing about 150,000 barrels of oil and natural gas per day from the western side of the field, but hoped to soon reach about 200,000 barrels a day.

The natural gas accounts for between 11,000 and 12,000 barrels of the total. Before the discovery of the leaks, BP was pumping as much as 400,000 barrels out of the entire field daily.

Steve Marshall, the president of BP Exploration Alaska, thanked state and federal personnel “for giving this effort their complete and undivided attention.”

BP also said it was looking at ways to restore some production from the eastern side of the field, subject to approval by federal regulators. The company is hoping to complete installation of the new 16 miles of pipeline by early next year.

The shutdown has raised fresh questions about BP’s safety record in the United States, after a major oil spill in the same region of Alaska in March and a huge blast at its Texas City refinery last year that killed 15 workers.

The company was forced to deny reported claims by a whistleblower that it had ignored corrosion problems at the Alaskan pipeline for years. But some have accused BP of acting with excessive zeal now.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, noting his state is losing about $6.4 million in daily revenues because of the shutdown, had queried the need to cease all operations from Prudhoe Bay.

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