This Isn't Good News for Gas Prices

Updated

BP is shutting down its Alaska pipeline because of possible corrosion. The shutdown will remove about 8 percent of the US oil production from the marketplace and drive up gas prices:

Oil company BP scrambled Monday to assess suspected pipeline corrosion that will shut shipments from the nation’s biggest oilfield, removing about 8 percent of daily U.S. crude production and driving oil prices sharply higher.

BP, which is already facing a criminal investigation over a large spill in March at the same Prudhoe Bay oilfield, said it did not know how long the field would be offline. “I don’t even know how long it’s going to take to shut it down,” said Tom Williams, BP’s senior tax and royalty counsel

While BP suspects corrosion in both damaged lines, it can’t say for sure until further tests are complete. Workers also found a small spill of about 4 to 5 barrels, which has been contained and is being cleaned up, BP said.

The news sent the price of light, sweet crude oil up $1.53 to $74.57 a barrel in electronic trading Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Steve Marshall, president of BP Exploration Alaska Inc., said Sunday night that the eastern side of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield would be shut down first, an operation anticipated to take 24 to 36 hours. The company will then move to shut down the west side, a move that could close more than 1,000 Prudhoe Bay wells.

Once the field is shut down, BP said oil production will be reduced by 400,000 barrels a day. That’s close to 8 percent of U.S. oil production or about 2.6 percent of U.S. supply including imports, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The shutdown comes at an already worrisome time for the oil industry, with supply concerns stemming both from the hurricane season and instability in the Middle East.

Dan Riehl also comments on how this shut down could affect international politics:

Iran will at least think it has more power due to their ability to threaten the Strait of Hormuz. And that’s only one factor. No doubt everyone will be discussing some of the others this week.

Update: The Energy Department is set to access the emergency oil reserves to make up for BP’s shut down:

The Energy Department is prepared to provide oil from the government’s emergency supplies if a refinery requests it because of the disruption of supplies from Alaska, a department spokesman said Monday.

“We’re taking a very serious look at this,” said spokesman Craig Stevens, referring to the loss of nearly half of oil shipments from Alaska’s North Slope because of a pipeline corrosion problem.

Stevens said the department will be in contact with BP Exploration Alaska Inc. and West Coast refiners later in Monday to assess the situation. “If there is a request for oil we’ll certainly take a serious look at that,” he said.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the nation’s emergency stockpile of crude oil. It was created after the 1973 oil embargo when Arab countries halted petroleum exports to protest U.S. support for Israel.

The reserve has about 700 million barrels in storage on the Gulf Coast to be used in case of a serious supply disruption. The Energy Department in the past has lent SPR oil to refineries when there were disruptions because of pipeline or other problems.

Most of Alaska’s oil goes to refineries on the West Coast. It was unclear how those refineries would be supplied with oil on the Gulf Coast. However any oil put into the market to replace lost Alaska oil would tend to ease prices, market experts say.

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