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Owners Seek Approval to Re-Open Alaska Pipeline

Tuesday, 11 Jan 2011 | 4:33 PM ET

The owner of the key Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline—which has been shut down since Saturday—is seeking regulatory approval to temporarily re-start the pipeline. The move would restore some of the vital flow of oil from Alaska's North Slope, though it is unclear how much, and for how long, according to a spokeswoman for Alyeska, the consortium that owns the pipeline.

The re-start would be aimed at preventing damage to the pipeline from freezing oil or wax buildup which can occur when oil is not flowing.

"Cold conditions and lowering crude oil temperatures within the pipeline are a serious concern," according to a statement from the Unified Command Center which is coordinating the response to the incident.

The statement says the temporary re-start is a "prudent" way to prevent damage to the pipeline, as well as avoid a much more complex and lengthy re-start later should temperatures in the pipeline get too cold.

The pipeline, which normally carries some 650,000 barrels of oil per day from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez, has been virtually shut down since Saturday morning, when a small leak was discovered at the northernmost pump station on the 800-mile line.

Officials are working on a plan to bypass the leak and permanently resume the flow of oil.

"Safely returning the pipeline to service, while protecting people and the environment, is the primary goal of the Unified Command," the statement says.

Nymex crude oil futures surged more than $2 a barrelto a fresh intraday high following the news.

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