BP battles Alaska oil spill

With all the global horrors in the headlines, this one barely grabbed any attention. Ironically, our attention is distracted precisely by the Middle East instability being used to justify the expansion of oil exploitation on Alaska’s public lands. From MarketWatch, March 10:

BP Plc. said Friday it hoped to soon wrap up repairs to a leaking pipeline on Alaska’s giant Prudhoe oil field that has already spilled over 200,000 gallons of crude, one of the biggest spills ever seen on the state’s North Slope.

BP, in a joint statement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state officials, said an early assessment puts the volume of oil spilled at 201,000 to 267,000 gallons of crude, or roughly 6,000 barrels.

“Clean-up operations continue around the clock in adverse weather conditions, with temperatures sometimes reaching 50 to 70 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill,” the company said.

So far, a clean-up crew of 60 has recovered about 52,920 gallons of liquids, though that includes snow and ice scooped up in the process.

A special metal sleeve has been bolted to the damaged GC-2 transit line, and workers are set to weld it in place Friday, weather permitting, the company said.

BP operators discovered a quarter-inch hole in the 34-inch diameter, above-ground pipeline on March 2, prompting the company to curtail output on the field by about 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

Prudhoe Bay, the biggest oil field in the United States, typically pumps about 470,000 barrels a day. There are 42 gallons in a barrel.

Oil from the field is carried via the Trans-Alaska pipeline over the Brooks Mountain Range to a tanker terminal in Valdez on Alaska’s Prince William Sound, site of the 11-million-gallon Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989, the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Exxon Mobil spent $2.2 billion on the three-year cleanup effort following the spill.

In 1994, an Anchorage judge slapped a $4.5 billion punitive fine on the Exxon Mobil for the spill. The case has been tied up in court ever since, with Exxon lawyers arguing that the fine was excessive.

While this latest North Slope oil spill pales alongside the Exxon Valdez disaster, it highlights the environmental risks that accompany oil and gas production.

Conservationists have long fought to block drilling on federal lands in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which lies to the east of Prudhoe Bay and is believed by many petroleum geologists to contain vast untapped oil and gas reserves.

Proponents of opening ANWR to exploration and development, including the energy industry and Bush administration, cite the need to develop domestic energy resources in the face of rising prices and the nation’s ever-growing dependence on imported oil.

See our last post on the struggle for Alaska’s oil.