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February 18, 2011 --- Vol. 17, No. 16February 2011

Alyeska argues pipeline safety concerns are overblown, requests consultation

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is challenging many of the concerns federal regulators raised in a pending safety order.

The operator of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline system sent a four-page response to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We support actions in the proposed order that will enhance safe operation of TAPS,” says the letter dated Feb. 15 and signed by Alyeska President Thomas Barrett. “However, Alyeska believes that some of PHMSA’s preliminary findings and proposed actions fail to reflect sound operational practice, propose out of sequence activities or address matters external to TAPS.”

In its Feb. 1 notice of proposed safety order, PHMSA said its investigation following an oil leak and pipeline shutdown in January turned up “multiple conditions” on the line that could pose a risk to public safety or the environment.

The agency proposed a raft of fixes, including replacement of pump station piping, installation pig-handling equipment, expansion of oil storage capacity, and improvement of Alyeska’s “cold restart” plan.

Barrett, himself a former PHMSA chief, takes issue with the agency’s suggestion that Alyeska isn’t dealing adequately with integrity challenges arising from the pipeline’s declining crude oil throughput, including potential freeze-ups and waxing inside the line.

“Alyeska has been, and will continue to be proactive to address risks resulting from declining flow,” Barrett writes.

He also addresses criticism that Alyeska had difficulty implementing its cold restart procedures during the prolonged January shutdown, partly due to an “inability to quickly move equipment” into position along the pipeline.

“To the contrary, Alyeska successfully executed the Cold Restart contingency plan as written,” Barrett writes. “There was no need to hastily move heavy equipment on winter roads in limited daylight in a hurried or unsafe manner.”

He concludes the letter with a request for an “informal consultation” with PHMSA to talk about piping replacement, storage tank capacity and other issues.

See full story in Feb. 27 issue, available online by 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 25, at www.PetroleumNews.com

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