Part of Prudhoe Bay may stay open
By Jeannette J. Lee
By Jeannette J. Lee
PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska — BP PLC officials said yesterday they might be able to keep one side of the nation's largest oil field open, just days after BP said it was closing the entire field as a precaution because of leaks and severe corrosion.
The eastern side of the field was closed Tuesday.
BP officials said they may be able to keep the western side of the field open because the company doesn't want to shut down the pipeline entirely.
A final decision was expected by early next week.
About 140,000 barrels of oil were still flowing out of Prudhoe Bay as of late yesterday, said Craig Wiggs, a performance unit leader for BP.
If the western side kept flowing, that would mean the company would be able to maintain the 140,000-barrel capacity — and possibly ramp up to 185,000 barrels — while work continues on the eastern side.
Wiggs said the company had initially decided to shut down the entire field because the leak on the eastern side made officials question their earlier inspections throughout the pipeline. But now, Wiggs said, the company was rethinking whether it could keep the western line open.
"It's a line we have the best confidence in," Wiggs said. "We've spent lots of time inspecting it in March, April and May after the spill."
The long-term plan would still be to replace the pipeline on the west side, which is where the company discovered a massive spill of up to 267,000 gallons in March.
BP also said it takes full responsibility for the lack of upkeep that led to the severe corrosion and shutdown.
"BP is the operator of the field. We're ultimately responsible," said Kemp Copeland, manager of the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
BP has a contract with Canadian company Acuren to provide corrosion inspections. The eastern side of the Prudhoe Bay pipeline had not undergone a high-tech inspection called "smart pigging" since 1992, although the western side had undergone the check in 1998.
Acuren officials did not immediately return several messages late yesterday. The Acuren companies are subsidiaries of Rockwood Service Corp., headquartered in Greenwich, Conn.
BP workers yesterday used ultrasound to listen for signs of thinning walls in the carbon steel pipe.