BP PLC brought back 100,000 barrels a day of crude production out of east Prudhoe Bay over the weekend, the first output from that part of the field since early August, a company spokesman said Monday. Total production, including 250,000 b/d in the western half of Prudhoe Bay that was never shut down, now stands at 350,000 b/d. That's still down from the 450,000 b/d the Alaskan field was producing before an oil spill in east Prudhoe Bay alerted BP to severe pipeline corrosion.
BP said Friday it would begin to restart east Prudhoe Bay, with the goal of returning 150,000 b/d by the end of this week. The remaining 50,000 b/d is still slated to return by the end of the week, said Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman. Prudhoe Bay's resurgence has come sooner than expected, as BP had said when it shut down the field that it could take months to restart.
Initial surprise at the shutdown gave way to anger, after Alaskan and federal officials learned that BP had ignored warnings about corrosion before the spill. East Prudhoe Bay isn't out of the woods yet, however.
BP received permission to restart production from the U.S. Department of Transportation only so it could clean and inspect the shut-in pipeline. Once the full 150,000 b/d is flowing, BP will send in a 'maintenance pig,' a cylindrical cleaning device that will travel through the pipeline over a two-week period, Beaudo said.
After that, BP will run a 'smart pig,' which inspects the pipeline for cracks. The smart pig could turn up more corrosion, Thomas Barrett, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in testimony before the Congress earlier this month.
BP isn't waiting for the results of the pigging to find alternate routes for Prudhoe Bay crude, Beaudo said.
The oil company is building bypass lines, which would allow production to continue even if new problems are found with the main pipeline. One bypass, expected to be completed by late October, will create a way around the three-mile segment of pipeline that was the site of the oil spill, which remains shut down.
Once the new line is complete, the final 50,000 b/d can return, bringing Prudhoe Bay production back to 450,000 b/d, Beaudo said.