Hilcorp ordered to inspect crude pipeline near leaking gas line

Federal pipeline safety authorities have ordered Hilcorp Alaska to inspect the underwater crude oil pipeline running adjacent and parallel to the leaking Hilcorp natural gas line that is presently releasing between 193,000 and 215,000 cubic feet of methane per day into Cook Inlet.

The Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration, a pipeline-regulating division of the federal Department of Transportation, issued the notice to do so to Hilcorp on Friday.

The crude oil pipeline is approximately 14 miles long and transports oil produced at four Hilcorp platforms in the Middle Ground Shoal Region of Cook Inlet to an onshore Hilcorp facility on the East Forelands coastline of Nikiski. From the onshore facility, the crude is piped to the Tesoro refinery.

Hilcorp confirmed on Feb. 7 that the pipeline carrying methane fuel to the four platforms is leaking. Since that time, Hilcorp has maintained normal operation of the crude pipeline, which according to PHMSA’s notice transports about 3700 barrels of crude a day from the Middle Ground Shoal’s two active platforms.

The ongoing methane leak is the third to spring from that gas pipeline since 2014. The others, in June and August 2014, occurred during ice-free months and were repaired. Causes of past leaks include rock impact, vibrations, and seafloor erosion that leaves the pipeline unsupported and prone to bending, according to PHMSA.

PHMSA’s notice doesn’t report any previous known leaks from the crude pipeline. Because the two pipelines share the same environment, however, the factors that caused the gas leak may also affect it.

“Although the cause of the ongoing leak on the ‘A Pipeline’ (gas pipeline) is unknown, past leaks on the pipeline have occurred due to outside forces,” PHMSA Western Region Director Chris Hoidal wrote in the notice. “… Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude that similar conditions are also present on the ‘B pipeline’ (crude oil pipeline).”

PHMSA notes that environmental damage from a leak in the crude pipeline would be much greater than the present gas leak, and repair would be just as difficult should a leak occur when the Inlet is iced over.

Like the leaking gasline, the crude pipeline is 8 inches in diameter and coated with an inch of concrete. According to the PHMSA report, Hilcorp successfully pressure-tested it in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The company also inspects it annually via sonar and echo-sounder, with diver inspections of areas determined by the sonar inspection. The sonar and echo-sounder inspections, however, “do not provide sufficient information” about certain kinds of damage, according to the PHMSA notice.

The measures in PHMSA’s Friday letter are proposals, subject to modification and negotiation with Hilcorp, which has 30 days to respond. They include new inspection requirements for the crude pipeline similar to those PHMSA proposed for the leaking gas line in a March 3 notice: using high-resolution sonar to find places where the pipe’s concrete is missing or the seabed beneath has eroded away, and inspecting those areas with divers.

If the inspection results lead PHMSA to determine that the pipeline “poses a risk to public safety, property or the environment,” it must be shut down and purged within seven days of PHMSA’s notice. Hilcorp must perform the inspections again in the summer of 2018.

The proposal also requires Hilcorp to revise its oil spill response plan by Nov. 1, 2017 to account for “environmental barriers and restraints” such as the ice that presently prevents it from repairing the gas leak.

The four Middle Ground Shoal platforms and their connecting pipeline system are among the oldest offshore oil and gas infrastructure in Cook Inlet, built in 1964 by Shell Oil Company and bought by Hilcorp in 2012 and 2015. Two of them, the A and C Platforms, are actively producing oil while two others, the Baker and Dillon Platforms, are inactive and unmanned.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Kenai Fire Marshal Jeremy Hamilton is seen by one of Kenai Fire Department’s Tower trucks on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 at Kenai Fire Department in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Get up, get out and get safe’

Kids taught about fire safety as part of prevention effort

Bob Bird, left, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party, and former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman make the case in favor of a state constitutional convention during a debate in Anchorage broadcast Thursday by Alaska Public Media. (Screenshot from Alaska Public Media’s YouTube channel)
Constitutional convention debate gets heated

Abortion, PFD factor into forum.

Carol Freas (right) helps a voter fill out absentee election materials in Kenai City Hall ahead of the Oct. 4 municipal election on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Absentee voting already underway

Absentee in-person voting has been made available across the borough

Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara
Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara
What’s on the ballot: Reapportionment, new field house, school bond

Voters will decide on ballot measures that address schools, public safety and legislative bodies

Cars line up ahead of dismissal at Mountain View Elementary School on Thursday, September 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. A bond package up for consideration by Kenai Peninsula Borough voters on Oct. 4 would fund improvements to the school’s traffic flow. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Parking lot problems

Lack of space for pickup and drop-offs creates traffic jam at elementary school

Soldotna Elementary School Principal Dr. Austin Stevenson points out elements of the school building on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Aging school on the brink

Renovations are cost prohibitive at Soldotna Elementary

Rep. Mary Peltola, an Alaska Democrat, delivers a speech on the U.S. House floor before Thursday’s vote approving her first bill, establishing an Office of Food Security in the Department of Veterans Affairs. It passed the House by a 376-49 vote, although its fate in the Senate is undetermined. (Screenshot from official U.S. House video)
Poll: Peltola’s a popular pol

Food for vets bill passes House, pollster says she is “the most popular figure in Alaska right now.”

A parking sign awaits the new executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund at its Juneau headquarters, Three finalists will be interviewed for the job during a public meeting Monday by the fund’s board of trustees, who are expected to deliberate and announce the new director immediately afterward. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Interviews, selection of new Permanent Fund CEO set for Monday

Three finalists seeking to manage $73.7B fund to appear before trustees at public meeting in Juneau

Principal Sarge Truesdell looks at cracked siding outside of Soldotna High School on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. The siding is one of several projects in a bond package Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Split siding at SoHi

The damage has been given patchwork treatment over the years

Most Read