I see the New York Times has caught up with this story:
BP began shutting down the nation’s largest oil field yesterday after an inspection detected heavy corrosion and a small leak in a critical pipeline in its Prudhoe Bay operation in Alaska. The emergency drove already-high world crude oil prices to just under $77 a barrel.
The company said that it would take three to five days to shut the pipeline system that serves Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska. BP said it could not estimate how long the system would be down as it replaced all 16 miles of feeder pipelines that connect the Prudhoe Bay field with the larger Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Bob Malone, president of BP America, said at a news conference in Anchorage that the company would look for a way to get at least some of the oil flowing again, quickly and safely, to limit the impact on the nation’s oil supply. He issued a public apology.
The Prudhoe Bay field produces 400,000 barrels a day, or 8 percent of American crude. Another 380,000 barrels a day from the North Slope is not affected by the shutdown.
The shutdown is expected to roil the Alaskan economy for months, if not longer. California and the rest of the West Coast also stand to suffer economic damage since refineries there are designed to process the Alaskan crude.
The reason for the corrosion isn’t as mysterious as you might gather from the NYT article and it’s not entirely unexpected: the site is pumping more salt water than oil these days. This is a typical feature of the end-of-life cycle for oilfields. For more on this see The Oil Drum where there’s a remarkable discussion going on with folks who really know what they’re talking about.
I posted on this subject yesterday here where I’ve got other links and background information.