The number of companies shipping oil down the trans-Alaska pipeline will fall from five to three later this summer, but the amount of oil sliding through the 800-mile-long pipe won't drop, according to a pipeline operator spokeswoman.
The two minority owners, Koch Alaska Pipelines and Unocal Pipeline, have in recent weeks separately sent notice to the three major owners -- BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. -- that they'll no longer ship North Slope crude oil down the pipeline starting Aug. 1, said Michelle Egan, spokeswoman with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
The news comes as the pipeline that's moved 16.5 billion barrels of oil celebrates its 35th birthday. Unocal Pipeline, through its predecessor, has been there since the beginning.
The change should not impact operations, said Egan. Daily shipments averaged 590,000 barrels in 2011.
The two minority companies together own a 4.4 percent stake in the pipeline. Currently BP owns 47 percent, ConocoPhillips owns 29.3 percent and Exxon Mobil Corp. owns 20.3 percent.
"The same amount of oil will be available and will be transported," Egan said. "People shouldn't see an impact. We won't see an impact to our operation."
A provision in the owners' governance agreement allows companies to withdraw. Their small ownership stake might be divided proportionally among the three majors, though exactly how the ownership breaks down in the future can be changed through negotiations, said Dawn Patience, spokeswoman with BP Alaska.
"The discussion is ongoing," Patience said.
Koch Alaska, a subsidiary of Koch Pipeline Co. in Wichita, Kan., bought its 3.1 percent stake in the pipeline from Williams in 2003.
Unocal, which holds a 1.35 percent stake, goes back to the early days. Union Oil has been a partner in the pipeline since 1970, seven years before the pipe began moving oil. Union Oil became Unocal Pipelines in 1986, said Egan.
Efforts late Friday to reach officials with Unocal Pipeline and Koch Alaska were unsuccessful.
BP is disappointed, said Patience. More companies help spread the business risk.
Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com