updated 9/15/2006 9:12:53 AM ET 2006-09-15T13:12:53

Oil giant BP PLC has asked permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to resume production on the eastern half of Prudhoe Bay so it can perform pipeline tests.

BP submitted the application Wednesday, saying it wants production restarted on the field so it can conduct more thorough tests — using so-called cleaning and inspection “pig” devices — on the eastern transit line to determine if it can be used to move oil to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The eastern half of Prudhoe Bay was closed last month over fears of leaks and corrosion, cutting production from the nation’s largest oil field by about half.

“This submission, we believe, helps them make an informed decision about whether or not we can proceed with maintenance pigging,” BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Thursday.

The application is being analyzed by engineers for its thoroughness and to see if it addresses safety concerns, a spokesman at the DOT’s pipeline safety agency said Thursday.

The agency didn’t intend to rush a decision in a process that can take up to three weeks.

“It’s their decision at this point as to how and when they respond,” Beaudo said.

The pipeline agency’s top official said during a Senate hearing Tuesday that BP must supply detailed and credible evidence that a temporary fix to the line wouldn’t cause environmental risk.

“We must be assured that even a temporary limited restart can be operated safely before it can proceed,” Thomas Barrett, chief of the DOT’s pipeline safety agency, said at the hearing.

Also this week, BP said it received permission from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to use a bypass line to possibly restart some production from the eastern side of the field.

Beaudo said the company is still seeking approval from the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission and the state Department of Natural Resources as it continues to acquire materials for the bypass line.

“We believe all that work can be done by the end of October,” he said.

The entire Prudhoe Bay oil field had produced more than 400,000 barrels a day — or 8 percent of total U.S. output — until leaks and the discovery of pipe corrosion led the company to begin shutting down the eastern half of the field Aug. 6.

The western side of the field was producing about 200,000 barrels a day Thursday, with another 50,000 barrels coming from the adjacent Point McIntyre field.

BP has said it ultimately will replace 16 of 22 miles of transit lines. It expects to get replacement pipe by the end of the year, with construction beginning early next year.

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