ANCHORAGE, ALASKA BP PLC said Friday it would keep one side of the nation's largest oil field open as it replaces 16 miles of pipeline, averting a total shutdown that could have put a larger crimp in the nation's oil supply.
The decision will allow BP to keep funneling up to 200,000 barrels of oil and natural gas from Prudhoe Bay. BP, which operates the oil field, had previously said it would have to completely shut down the field after discovering leaks and severe corrosion on the eastern side of the pipeline nearly a week ago.
BP said it decided to continue supplying oil out of the western side of the field after reviewing 1,400 ultrasound inspections on five miles of the pipeline, and discussing the matter with federal and state regulators.
BP said it will monitor the pipeline around the clock and use infrared cameras from the sky and the ground to detect small leaks. It will run a high-tech "smart pig" device through the line by November to search for weaknesses in pipe walls.
"With greatly enhanced surveillance and response capability, I am confident we can continue to safely operate the line," BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone said in a statement.
The company said it is currently producing about 150,000 barrels of oil and natural gas per day from the western side of the field, but hoped to reach about 200,000 barrels a day.
The natural gas accounts for between 11,000 and 12,000 barrels of the total. Before the discovery of the leaks, BP was pumping as much as 400,000 barrels out of the field daily.
BP also said it was looking at ways to restore some production from the eastern side of the field, subject to approval by federal regulators. The company is hoping to complete installation of the new 16 miles of pipeline by early next year.