The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has approved BP Exploration Alaska Inc.'s request to reopen and test a pipeline shut since August when a leak was discovered. That leak prompted BP to close the eastern part of the Prudhoe Bay field, reducing the flow of oil from a key production area.

DOT's Sept. 22 approval will let BP pump oil into its eastern, low-pressure line so it can use a mechanism, called a "pig," to clean the line. Then, BP can send an inspection device called a "smart pig" through the line to analyze it.

BP says the test will be done on a 5-mile-long, 34-in.-dia segment that moves oil from processing facilities on the eastern half of the Prudhoe field. If BP is cleared for full operation there, the firm should boost daily North Slope production to about 450,000 barrels, from 250,000 now.