BLM Cuts Engineering Oversight of Aging Trans-Alaska Pipeline

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For Immediate Release: Feb 04, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

BLM Cuts Engineering Oversight of Aging Trans-Alaska Pipeline

BLM Alaska Downsizing Reduces Both Staff and Oil Company Reimbursements

Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reduced its Alaskan assets in a reorganization approved last December without public announcement, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The major change is fewer engineering staff to review the structural integrity of the more than 40-year old Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).

TAPS is one of the world’s largest pipeline systems, consisting of an 800-mile crude-oil pipeline, with 11 pump stations, and several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, stretching from the North Slope to Valdez Marine Terminal. It is operated by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, owned by a consortium of oil companies (BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Unocal Pipeline Co.)

In a reorganization plan approved in mid-December, BLM cut “the number of cost reimbursable, full-time equivalent positions (FTEs) that support and are funded by the TAPS ROW [rights-of-way] operator Alyeska.” A total of 8.5 slots are eliminated and the Alyeska reimbursement for five remaining BLM staff will be reduced “to one-half their full cost.” (Emphasis in original)

The stated rationale for the reduction is that BLM “has shifted from engineering review to more traditional management of rights-of-way (ROW).” The BLM decision document also states that “The change will have no impact to the public. No public outreach is necessary and will not be conducted.”

“This reorganization confers savings on the big oil companies that own the pipeline but not a penny for the taxpayer,” stated Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member. “BLM’s decision to keep a reduction of public oversight over this gargantuan structure a secret from the public is disquieting, to say the least.”

This scaling back of BLM oversight comes as TAPS enters a precarious period, with –

  • Aging, corrosion-plagued materials spread across hundreds of miles of harsh terrain;
  • TAPS now moves only a quarter of the volume it carried at its peak. This reduced flow causes the crude to move slower, lose more heat, and gum up the system in a myriad of ways, creating ever more complex and expensive engineering problems; and
  • With an end in sight, no steps have been taken to plan for the legally required dismantling and removal of TAPS facilities and restoration of the land utilized by pipeline facilities.

“The biggest engineering challenges for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline lie ahead and are mounting day-by-day,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Now is not the time for BLM to become an absentee landlord of one of the most complex delivery systems on the planet.”


See the BLM decision memos

Read the reorganization rationale

View the altered organization charts

Look at TAPS history of corrosion problems

Examine the requirement that TAPS be dismantled and rmoved

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