When LRS, Inc. (formerly Little Services) brought their first hot oil truck to the North Slope of Alaska in 1983, no one really knew what it was or why anyone would even need one. "We were a little early showing up," says LRS, Inc.'s Vice President of Operations, Joe Curgus. This kind of forward thinking, however, is what has helped LRS, Inc. grow into a company that is providing oil well related services--over thirty years later--to every major oil producer on the North Slope.
When "Low Flow" Compromises Integrity
The need for well related maintenance services was not a concern when oil started running down the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1977. Producers had little thought for "low flow" or "hard to reach oil" as production continued to steadily increase for the first ten years of operation until hitting an all-time high of 2 million barrels per day in 1988.
Since then, crude production has steadily declined with annual production numbers coming in at under 200 million barrels for the first time in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration. With the days of "easy oil" gone, producers are challenged with not only keeping the oil moving, but doing so safely in a pipeline that was built to transport higher volumes of product.
Lower production isn't just a matter of decreased profits for oil companies. According to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's "Low Flow Impact Study" which was released in June 2011, low flow rates on crude oil pipelines can cause operational issues, particularly in the frigid Arctic, when oil production progressively declines below 600,000 barrels per day.
Potential operation issues that can be caused by low flow rates, according to Alyeska's report, directly contribute to system and pipe corrosion such as water dropout from the crude oil, sludge drop out, ice formation if oil temperatures drop below freezing, wax precipitation and deposition, displacement of buried pipelines due to soil freezing and thawing as pipeline operating temperatures decline, reduction in pipeline leak detection efficiency, pipeline shutdown and restart, and the inability of pipeline pigs to operative effectively in both cleaning and checking pipeline integrity.
"One of the main reasons pipelines fail is because of corrosion," says Ben Schoffmann, CEO of Kakivik Asset Management, LLC, an inspection and integrity management company that has been active on the North Slope since 2001. "Corrosion can occur on the outside...