Archive for the ‘TransAlaska Pipeline’ Tag

CEG Looks Back: The Alaska Pipeline Cuts Through the Last Frontier | Story ID: 25334 | Construction Equipment Guide   3 comments

This is actually an older article (it referenced Gov. Murkowski, who left office in 2006), but it does a great job of describing the TAPS.

CEG Looks Back: The Alaska Pipeline Cuts Through the Last Frontier | Story ID: 25334 | Construction Equipment Guide.

Because of continuing decline in throughput, the State of Alaska is now headed toward a possible shutdown of state government, which affects every aspect of Alaskan lives because that’s how the oil revenue reaches the people. Having weathered the ongoing Recession of 2008, if our legislature and government cannot come to a compromise in the next few weeks, we will be facing mass layoffs of about 40% of the state’s working population.

Or not.

I’m starting a new series about oil in Alaska and life in a resource state.

Pipeline work began 40 years ago: Born out of an energy crisis, the monumental project reshaped Alaska – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Editorials   Leave a comment

Pipeline work began 40 years ago: Born out of an energy crisis, the monumental project reshaped Alaska – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Editorials.

Posted April 25, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

Tagged with , , , , ,

TAPS Challenges   Leave a comment

Contrary to popular belief, the TransAlaska is not falling apart and spraying oil across the Alaska tundra. Most of the pipeline is visible from the road, so I can actually verify that this is a media myth.

This is not to say that the TAPS does not face a continuum of maintenance challenges. TAPS transports about 15% of America’s domestic crude production and it is THE backbone of Alaska’s economy, delivering 90% of the State’s general fund revenue. That is not, mostly, from taxing the oil companies, but from the sale of Alaska crude that belongs to the State of Alaska and the residents of the state. More on that in a later post. More than 2 million barrels a day once surged through the TAPS. Since peak flow in the late 1980s, TAPS throughput has dropped. Today it is declining more than 5% per year. Less oil means slower-moving oil. Slower oil means colder oil. The slower and colder the oil, the more complicated the challenges for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the pipeline’s operator. The best long-term solution is more oil. In the meantime, daily throughput is already lower than it was at pipeline startup in 1977.

Here are some petroleum engineering facts. Crude oil naturally contains small amounts of water. As crude slows and cools, water will begin to separate out from the oil and accumulate at the bottom of the pipeline, increasing the risk of corrosion. This happens today during shutdowns, when water accumulates at low points. As water drops out and everything cools, the risk of ice-related problems also increases. Ice in welds — not a good combination. Alaska North Slope crude oil naturally contains up to 2% wax by volume. When the pipe walls are colder than 70 degrees and colder than the oil, wax crystals gravitate to the pipe wall and stick to it. Wax also precipitates out of the crude oil. Less turbulence, cooler crude temperature and slower flow all may result in more wax sticking to pipe walls and more wax dropping out of the oil and settling in the pipeline.  Wax deposits must be removed by running cleaning “pigs”. Alyeska and its owner companies have analyzed the risks, options and challenges of declining throughput. Some mitigations are already in place. My husband has worked installing cathodic protection to reduce corrosion on the pipeline. Engineers are validating other potential steps through laboratory and field tests. For the immediate future, Alyeska is adding heat to keep the crude warm and to prevent small amounts of water from freezing in the line. The cleaning pig program has been modified – with frequent pigging and redesigned pigs as needed – to keep the pipe clean of wax. Heat is added through recirculation at Pump Stations 3, 4 and 9. Pump Station 7, which was previously decommissioned, is now back online to recirculate oil. A schedule is in place for adding more heat as the crude continues to cool due to declining throughput.

As throughput further declines, continuing to add ever more heat would create new problems. At some point, it appears the most effective approach will be to operate the line in a “cold-dry flow” state. Most of the water is removed from the crude before it enters the pipeline and the system runs much cooler. Such “cooking” requires large amounts of natural gas, which the North Slope has in abundance and is currently stranded for lack of a pipeline. Since the purpose of heat is mainly to prevent ice formation, eliminating most of the water eliminates the need for elaborate heating systems. Once the cold dry flow system has been validated through field and laboratory testing, a transition phase will shift the system from heat-dependent operations to cold-dry flow. Work is in progress to determine how best to manage wax accumulation. The oil companies that run the Trans-Alaska Pipeline suggest that if oil flows drop too low, the line could be compromised. The corrosion problem exists, but the main issue is cost. If it becomes uneconomical to transport the oil because of pipeline maintenance issues, then Alyeska may shut down Prudhoe Bay. There are those who think that’s just a scare tactic to “force” the opening of ANWR and NPR-A, but those who understand business economics say that’s not completely the case. Oil production in Alaska’s Arctic has always been a hard and expensive proposition. It’s only affordable if the price of oil is high or the cost of transportation is low. All the oil produced in the fields near Prudhoe Bay depends on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Although there are still substantial oil reserves left in Prudhoe Bay, which has been drilled for decades, the oil companies say the end is in sight. John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, says that now those companies believe the most profitable resources to tap will be the easy-to-reach oil in places they’re not yet allowed to drill: parts of the National Petroleum Reserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas just offshore of the North Slope. ANWR alone holds 10 billion barrels of untapped oil, Felmy says, but drilling there is a huge environmentalism and political hot potato, and so far the U.S. government has not let oil companies in even to explore. Charles Clusen is the Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the environmental groups accusing the oil companies of manufacturing an argument that doesn’t exist as a reason to open ANWR and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to drilling. Instead, NRDC is encouraging the industry to invest in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to get more out of Prudhoe Bay. An NRDC study, released in September, conducted by an independent consulting firm recommends that the industry spend up to $721 million in shoring up the pipeline to withstand flows down to 150,000 barrels per day, possibly generating up to $28 billion by tapping oil in the Prudhoe Bay area that would be left untouched if the pipeline e is shut down. “Making a modest investment with an extremely high payout will mean that TAPS can continue to operate and is not in danger of being shut down in the near future,” the study concludes.

It is true that there are untapped areas of Prudhoe Bay. There are only three active drill sites right now. Why? I don’t know why. There are the officially acknowledged reasons that don’t make sense and there’s the wild accusations that do. The oil belongs to the people of Alaska and we really ought to be asking ourselves why we only have three active drill sites when North Dakota has hundreds. The latest oil tax scheme will either sink us or produce more oil. We’ll see. If it results in more active sites, then that was the problem and we’ve solved it. If it doesn’t … well, let’s hope Alaska can afford that mistake. We just don’t know right now.

What is known is that the best way to ensure TAPS will remain running and in good physical condition for a long time is to make sure there is plenty of oil to produce on the North Slope. The magic formula for getting rid of all these operational challenges is just to increase throughput. More oil, more heat, and less challenges with icing and gelling. If they found another source of oil, they’d just continue to use TAPS. They might not have to make modifications if they had another source of oil.

And, by the way, that would save you guys outside of Alaska money, because whenever Alaskan crude production increases, American gasoline prices go down. Call and write your congressional representatives, folks!

Alaska’s Main Artery   Leave a comment

So, I was looking through my posts and I realized that I skipped an important point of controversy in the whole discussion of Alaskan oil – the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS). It’s been a part of my life for nearly 40 years, so it sometimes hard to remember that it was a hugely controversial construction project in the 1970s.

If Alaska were a body, the TransAlaska Pipeline System (TAPS) would be the aorta. The 48-inch steel TAPS pipeline is truly the man-made wonder of the Last Frontier, traversing 800 miles (1300 kilometers) of tundra and boreal forest, 800 rivers, three major earthquake faults and three majestic mountain ranges. The corridor includes more than 550 wildlife crossings for moose, caribou, bear, etc. Completed in 1977 at a cost of $8 billion for the two-year project, it was the largest privately-funded construction effort up to that time. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company built it and continues to maintain it to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope to the northern-most ice-free port of Valdez where it is loaded on tankers for the journey to US refineries. During the peak of construction, over 28,000 people were employed by Alyeska and its contractors. TAPS carries approximately 20% of the nation’s domestic oil production.

Although the North Slope’s oil had been suspected since the 1920s, it wasn’t until World War II that there was any serious interest in proving it existed, but even then, the challenges of drilling in an Arctic environment cooled interest, especially once Richfield Oil found oil in Swanson River on the Kenai.  When Atlantic Richfield began a detailed survey of Prudhoe Bay in 1968, they hit pay dirt in a field that contained at least 25 billion barrels of oil. But how to get that oil to market?

No one had ever built an 800-mile pipeline. Boeing proposed a fleet of 12-engine tanker aircraft to transport the oil. General Dynamics proposed tanker submarines. Another group suggested extending the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Prudhoe. Ice-breaking oil tankers were also proposed. Humble Oil provided that last idea was not feasible and it was generally agreed a pipeline was needed. Atlantic Richfield, British Petroleum, and Humble Oil formed a joint group to begin geological and engineering studies of a proposed oil pipeline. Hoping to start laying pipe in September 1969, they ordered 48-inch steel from Japan and applied for a 100-foot wide right-of-way to build a subterranean pipeline and 11 pumping stations with a parallel right-of-way for a support highway. The document was just 20 pages.

The Interior Department sent personnel who concluded that burying the pipeline meant to transport hot oil in permafrost soils was a majorly dumb idea. The right-of-way violated the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 by asking for more land than allowed. Secretary of Interior Wally Hickle, former governor of Alaska, moved forward with the permit and the pipeline consortium began mobilizing equipment. Then several Alaska Native groups that had previously waived right-of-way, encouraged by conservation groups asked a DC judge to issue an injunction against the project. Everything came to a screeching halt as environmental groups deluged the airwaves with predictions of environmental disaster. The consortium reorganized into the Alyeska Pipeline Services Company under a leader who began to lobby heavily for an Alaska Native claims settlement to overcome the right-of-way issues.

Alaska Native groups were mainly in favor of building the pipeline and developing the oil fields. Their objection was they wanted to financially benefit from it. Environmentalist groups mainly wanted to stop the project from being built at all. The recently passed National Environmental Policy Act did require procedures Alyeska had not yet met. Throughout the summer of 1970s, Alyeska rushed to do further research. Environmentalists called for the removal of the pipeline after it was no longer needed, but they wanted the road removed as well. They insisted the pipeline would destroy tradition migratory routes and result in the extinction of the caribou.

Native groups agreed to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. They renounced their land claims in exchange for $962.5 million and 148.5 million acres (601,000 km2) in federal land. The money was distributed among villages and regional corporations, which then distributed shares of stock to Natives in the region or village. The shared paid dividends based on both the settlement and corporation profits.

Objects about migration were laid to rest by studying the Davidson Ditch, a 48-inch water pipeline that runs for 83 miles along the Chatanika River. Caribou simply jumped the pipeline or went under it where it was raised. Pipeline proponents argued the “slow Arctic growth” argument by pointing out the trees that had reestablished in the Chatanika Valley following the cessation of dredging operations 10 years before.

The court battles continued and Congress was embroiled in an alternative route debate. Eventually, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries forced the issue with an oil embargo against the United States. The right-of-way issue was cleared in January 1974 and construction started in March.

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