Engineers check Alaska pipeline for damage after earthquake

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Engineers inspected the Alaska pipeline to determine the extent of the damage Monday after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the United States knocked out some of its supports and forced a shutdown in the flow of oil.

Sunday's magnitude-7.9 quake was so strong that it opened cracks 6 feet wide in roads and rocked boats on lakes as far away as Louisiana. However, only one minor injury was reported -- a woman who broke her arm in a fall when she fled her home.

The pipeline, which carries crude from the North Slope oil fields, was shut down as a precaution, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. spokesman Mike Heatwole said Monday it was too soon to know when pumping would resume.

The giant conduit, about 60 miles from the quake's epicenter, was not ruptured, but some brackets were damaged, leaving sections of the 48-inch-diameter pipe suspended without support, officials said. Crews began work on temporary supports.

The oil flow can be stopped for maintenance or other reasons without affecting oil shipments because a reserve is stored in tanks at the ocean terminal in Valdez.

Oil analysts had little concern that the pipeline shutdown would dramatically affect supplies or prices.

"As far as affecting the world's oil markets, it would probably have to be knocked out a month or more," said Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant LLC in New York.

Aftershocks rattled the region Monday, one with a magnitude of 4.5, and seismologists said more could be expected for the next several days.

The quake was centered in a remote and sparsely populated area 90 miles south of Fairbanks.

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