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Alaska oil pipeline leak contaminates North Slope site

03 March 2015

Investigators are reviewing the cause of an oil production pipeline breach on Alaska's North Slope where upwards of 15,100 litres of fluid spilled, state officials said on March 1. The production facility is jointly owned by Hilcorp and BP Alaska, and is operated by Hilcorp, which took over operations from BP in November when that company sold off some of its Alaska assets.

Stock image
Stock image

The ruptured line sprayed the fluid - made up of oil, natural gas and water - on Saturday over an area covering about 3,500 square metres at a site about 25 miles from Deadhorse., according to a Department of Environmental Conservation report. Spray covered a gravel pad and some tundra area, but there were no reports of any wildlife being affected, the report said.

Blizzard-like conditions delayed initial cleanup efforts, according to a DEC news release. But by that afternoon responders, including teams from Hilcorp, Alaska Clean Seas and ConocoPhillips’ Kuparuk oil field, had used a vacuum truck to recover most of the contaminants.

Hilcorp hopes to soon determine the cause of the leak, Nelson said.  “There was no field activity directly related with this pipe that would have caused this," she added. "The breach occurred at some point when there was not any personnel or equipment operating in this area.”

Field staff had visually inspected the 10-inch pipe the evening before the leak, said Nelson, and the company did not think the release occured for more than 12 hours.

After the discovery of the leak, the affected 15-foot section of pipe was isolated and sealed off with valves. Producing wells from that portion of the field were shut down. A wooden plug was inserted into the quarter-inch hole and the damaged pipe was wrapped to prevent further leaking, environmental regulators said.

Within 24 hours, Hilcorp had installed a bypass line to resume normal production flow and prevent freezing in other portions of the operation. The flow line carries about 4,200 barrels of oil each day from producing wells, part of the 20,000 barrels of daily production at the unit. 

Hilcorp suffered another setback in October in Cook Inlet when a fire erupted on the half-century-old Baker platform. The fire stemmed from a malfunctioning wall heater that had been recently inspected, Nelson said. No one was injured and nothing was spilled.

After regulators arrive, the damaged pipe will be removed for analysis.


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