Problem Slows Prudhoe Bay Oil Production

Production at the Prudhoe Bay oil field was reduced by another 90,000 barrels on Wednesday when a problem was discovered in a compressor, according to a spokesman for BP PLC, operator of the country's largest oil field.

The mechanical problem cut oil production at Prudhoe Bay from an already reduced 200,000 barrels to 110,000 barrels, said BP Alaska spokesman Daren Beaudo. It likely would take several days to complete the repairs, he said.

The compressor that failed handles natural gas that is produced with the oil and water during the processing of crude. Only the western side of the field is producing oil following the shutdown of the eastern half earlier this month.

In a separate event, work to remove insulation from a transit line on the western side of the field was temporarily halted Wednesday. BP wants time to evaluate the potential for workers to be exposed to materials that contain between 5 percent and 10 percent asbestos before continuing the work, Beaudo said.

The insulating material was applied when the line was originally installed in the late 1970s.

Beaudo said the line will continue to operate while BP assesses how to safely handle the material.

The Prudhoe Bay field had been producing about 400,000 barrels a day of oil — about half of all North Slope production — when workers Aug. 6 discovered a leak in a transit line on the eastern side of the field.

The leak, which spilled about 200 gallons of oil, was found while workers stripped off insulation to get a better look at the line after a test indicated numerous areas where the pipe wall was exceptionally thin. The problem has since been blamed on bacterial corrosion that created pitting in the pipe.

The company plans to replace 16 miles of corroded transit pipes.

It was the second leak found in a transit line, also called feeder pipelines, which transport oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline. In March, a leak in a corroded transit line pipe resulted in the spill of more than 200,000 gallons of crude — the largest spill ever on the North Slope. A bypass was put on that line to keep it operating.