The 800-mile-long Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), owned by British Petroleum and other oil majors had to be shut down yesterday following a power outage that caused several thousand barrels of crude oil spilling into backup containers.
The spill comes at a time when BP, holding a 46.93-per cent stake in TAPS, is fighting unsuccessfully to contain the massive oil gushing out from its damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico that is likely to be the worst oil disaster in US history eclipsing the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. (See: BP caught in the sludge of potentially worst oil disaster in US history)
The TAPS operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co, which is owned by five oil companies-BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Unocal and Koch had been under scheduled testing for the fire command system at a Pump Station yesterday, when the incident occurred.
Alyeska said that the station experienced a power failure at approximately 10:20 am, resulting in the tank relief valves opening as they are designed to do. Subsequently, Tank 190 overflowed and crude oil was released to secondary containment.
Alyeska estimates that the potential spill volume to containment is up to several thousand barrels. The containment area has a capacity of 104,500 barrels, but the spill has severely reduced the supply down the main artery between refineries and Alaska's oilfields.
The 800-mile-long TAPS, costing over $8 billion to build, is one of the world's largest pipeline systems. Starting in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope, TAPS stretches through rugged and beautiful terrain to Valdez - the northernmost ice-free port in North America.
Since pipeline startup in 1977, Alyeska has successfully transported more than 16 billion barrels of oil.
Alaska today supplies nearly 17 per cent of the US' domestic crude oil production. Revenues from oil production and transportation provide approximately eighty percent of funding for the state government in Alaska.