Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the Anchorage-based operator of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, have signed an agreement to study improved oil spill detection technologies for trans-Alaska pipeline applications.

Alyeska Pipeline currently uses a variety of leak detection technologies to identify possible spills at or below those levels required by regulations. The agreement calls for the investigation of technologies that can provide remote-sensing detection of oil releases below the present leak detection threshold. New technologies may also help the company find leaks more quickly.

The agreement was facilitated through JPL's Technology Affiliates Program, which allows companies to fund studies or technology work at JPL. A small first effort will identify already existing space program technologies, if any, that hold the potential to meet Alyeska's leak detection requirements. A larger second phase involving technology development at JPL could follow.

The agreement is the latest twist in an Alyeska initiative launched last summer when the company solicited both the private and public sectors to present available technologies to detect leaks as small as ten gallons. According to Alyeska's Conceptual Engineering Lead Claude Robinson, "None of the systems submitted to Alyeska met the specifications desired for the futuristic pipeline monitoring system the company envisioned. We realized we needed to understand the breadth of technologies that exist and also to review how we might put one or more of them together to make an operational system."

These efforts came to the attention of JPL's Joan Horvath, who has been working with the Alaska Technology Transfer Center in Anchorage, Alaska, to provide Alaska businesses with access to JPL's solar system exploration technologies.

"We realized that JPL might be able to help Alyeska understand its options and move forward on a new system," said Joan Horvath, a business alliance manager with JPL's Technology Affiliates Program. "In particular, we thought that a lot of our instruments for close-up studies of Mars and Europa, a moon of Jupiter, might have some applicability for Alyeska's issues."

With the assistance of the Alaska Technology Transfer Center, the two parties came together, and the new agreement is the result. "It's exciting to be able to apply technology and knowledge that would not normally be easily accessible to us in Alaska," said Center Director Charles Christy.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company operates the 800-mile-long trans-Alaska pipeline. More than 20% of the United States' domestic oil production flows through the trans-Alaska pipeline, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. A total of 420 miles of pipe are above ground on special horizontal supports; the remaining 380 miles are buried as much as 49 feet underground.

For further details about the Technology Affiliates Program, visit JPL's Commercial Technology Program Web site at JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

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