Alaska Pipeline Getting Dangerously Cold

It's shipping less oil, which lowers temperature and causes trouble
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2011 3:22 PM CDT
Alaska Pipeline Getting Dangerously Cold
A buried section of the Trans Alaska Pipeline emerges a few miles north of the Yukon River on July 21, 2002 in Fairbanks, Alaska.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Northern Alaska isn’t producing as much oil as it used to, and that could spell disaster for the Trans Alaska Pipeline. The pipe now transports about a third as much oil as it did at its peak, which makes the entire process about five times slower. That in turn lowers the temperature of the pipe, making it more prone to corrosion, clogs, ruptures, and spills, the Wall Street Journal explains.

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The pipeline employs 2,000 people and delivers more than 11% of American-produced oil. Engineers for Alyeska, the company that owns the pipeline, are trying to invent some way of raising its temperature, though they already know one surefire fix: “If I could ask for one thing, it is to figure out how to get more oil into this pipe,” says Alyeska’s president. But doing that would probably require lifting environmental protections in the area to allow more drilling, a politically controversial move. (Read more trans-Alaska pipeline stories.)

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