Little of the disaster covered center-column here would be probable were it not for unsustainable overpopulation.
August 10, 2010 Los Angeles Times
The flow has slowed through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline
And it's likely to keep declining over the next decade, possibly causing dangerous ice and corrosion problems and hampering delivery of North Slope oil to the rest of the U.S.
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
In 1977, one of the engineering marvels of the modern world made its debut: the
trans-Alaska pipeline, 48 inches of steel traversing 800 miles, three mountain
ranges and more than 800 rivers and streams.
"We are now blocked on three sides, with the remaining state land in the middle," he said.
Conservationists who have urged a slowdown in the march of oil development into the vulnerable regions of the Arctic coastal plain and outer continental shelf, home to threatened polar bears and bowhead whales, concede the problem with pipeline flows but say the oil companies, including BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, are using the threat of a pipeline shutdown to get access to more oil without paying for the scientific studies needed to do it safely.
"These are the richest corporations in the world, and they're being crybabies. Yes, putting oil in a pipeline in the Arctic is very, very hard. I admire their science and engineering, and by God they ought to do more of it and quit crying about it," said Jim Ayers, a Juneau-based conservation consultant and former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Tony Knowles.
Kevin Banks, director of the state Division of Oil and Gas, conceded that new flows or major new investments were needed to keep the pipeline operational. But he said the slowdown in exploration on the North Slope was partly due to the recession, and production could ramp up slightly, if temporarily, by 2013.
State officials estimate that about 5.16 billion barrels of recoverable oil remain on the North Slope. The old workhorses on the North Slope, Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk, largely operated by BP, are petering out.
But BP is set to begin pumping oil at its new, near-shore Liberty prospect as early as late 2011, eventually reaching production of 40,000 barrels a day. And ConocoPhillips' new satellite fields in the national petroleum reserve, west of Prudhoe Bay, could generate 12,000 to 18,000 new barrels a day of production.
The real bonanza is offshore, in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which hold an estimated 27 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
Shell Alaska, which paid the federal government $2.1 billion for its Chukchi leases and spent nearly an additional $1 billion on seismic evaluations and scientific studies, has said its offshore oil production could generate enough oil to extend the life of the pipeline by 15 to 20 years.
The company had been delayed by a series of environmental lawsuits but planned to finally launch exploratory drilling this summer, until the Gulf of Mexico blowout prompted the Obama administration to order a freeze on new drilling in the Arctic.
Now, it's unclear when exploration drilling can commence.
Pete Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska, said the company was willing to wait and see if the Obama administration moved expeditiously to lift the Arctic drilling freeze, imposed because of the nightmarish potential damage posed by an oil spill in icy, highly remote Arctic waters.
"What we need to do is really gauge the support we have through the administration, and through the Department of Interior," Slaiby said. "We're never going to be free and clear of litigation. But what we really need are continued clear signals, and we've had some from the administration and Interior."
Oil analysts say there are also large potential reserves of heavy oil — perhaps up to 35 billion barrels — above existing light oil deposits on the North Slope that until now has been too thick to recover. Sucking the oil out of the ground would require billions of dollars in new technology, an expenditure big North Slope companies say is not likely under the state's current tax regime.
BP, which operates the giant Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields, has reduced its investment in "bread-and-butter" oil-field development work by 30% since 2007, company spokesman Steve Rinehart said.
North Slope companies have estimated that $40 billion in new investments in existing fields over the next 10 years will be needed just to keep them at a rate of decline of 6% a year, which is significantly higher than the state's estimate of 2.8%.
Though a group of Republican lawmakers earlier this year called for a rollback of production taxes, the Legislature focused mainly on a proposed new gas pipeline that would run near the existing trans-Alaska pipeline, opening the door for the first production of the North Slope's abundant gas reserves.
There were few tears shed for the oil companies' financial plight.
"If you look at what happened in the years when there was virtually no tax, they were not exploring for new oil. They were basically in harvest mode," said state Rep. David Guttenberg, a Democratic lawmaker from Fairbanks.
"They probably knew they were going to get to this point in the life of the pipeline and have to do something. But their concept was just to pump it out as fast as they can, and we'll see what happens."
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