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Alaskan Pipeline Leak Is Small, But Time Is Of Essence

The Houston Chronicle reports the leak discovered Saturday at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is small. Quoting BP officials, the paper says nine to 10 barrels of petroleum have been collected.

Nonetheless, the leak has shut down the pipeline that produces about 12 percent of United States' crude and the Wall Street Journal reports that in the dead of winter, a stoppage like this could mean big problems:

Alaska's harsh winters and subzero temperatures make pipeline shutdowns especially perilous, with operators facing the constant risk of ice forming inside the line. In a worst-case scenario, the crude itself can solidify into a waxlike sludge and render an entire pipeline unusable.

"In the extreme case ... it can become a long candle," said Richard Kuprewicz, president of the pipeline engineering consulting firm Accufacts Inc. and an expert on oil pipeline safety.

To avoid that fate, pump operators are "recycling" oil—moving it back and forth along the line—in order to keep it warm. Meanwhile, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the pipeline's operator, has engineers working around the clock to restart the pipeline by constructing a 170-foot, 24-inch bypass section around the pump station where a leak was discovered Saturday.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports the leak has had no environmental impact, because the oil is trapped in the basement of a pump room. But as the market closed today, Reuters reports, crude prices jumped more than one percent.

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