Alaska’s oil production has fallen off a cliff, even as America’s overall output has surged on the back of booming shale formations in the continental United States. That’s a problem for the state, but it’s also a problem for what’s left of the oil industry there, because as Bloomberg reports a lower utilization rate of a major pipeline artery could make said pipeline unusable in the near future:
The 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System was built for extreme conditions. But as the state’s oil production declines, the pipeline faces a new challenge: flows so sluggish operators worry the line may become unusable, cutting off access for hundreds of North Slope oil wells. […]
Lower volumes mean crude travels more slowly through the pipeline, losing heat along the way. And at low temperatures, crude behaves badly. Ice crystals form that can damage pumping equipment. Carbon molecules, meanwhile, coalesce into paraffin, a waxy residue that, if not cleared out, can gunk up the line “like a big, frozen tube of ChapStick,” said Betsy Haines, Alyeska’s oil-movements director.
There’s something of a negative feedback loop here, but all hope isn’t lost for the state that calls itself the “Last Frontier.” Last October, a Dallas-based wildcatter claimed to have discovered a massive new oil field off Alaska’s north coast that could end up increasing Alaska’s known oil reserves by 80 percent. Like any oil drilling at that latitude, actually getting that crude out of the ground will be easier said than done, but the discovery suggests that Alaska’s oil chapter isn’t done just yet.