"In the 19th century, we saw remarkable advances in transportation in this country with the opening of the Erie Canal , the transcontinental stagecoach, and the Oregon Trail. In the 20th century, we saw the development of the automobile and airplane; both of these developments required petroleum to be refined into lubricating oil and gasoline. By the mid 1900s, the easy sources of these petroleum reserves have been tapped. The U.S. became dependent on imported oil and the discovery of new sources became more difficult. The problem was getting that crude oil to Valdez for shipment to the lower 48 states. This challenge was solved by the building of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. This became a modern engineering feat which U.S. industry solved to deliver the needed oil to American consumers and industry."- Dr. Gerald Boerner, Professor Boerner's Explorations (2011)
November 16, 1973: U.S. President Richard M. Nixon signed the the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act into law, which authorized the building of an oil pipeline connecting the North Slope of Alaska to Port Valdez. Specifically, it halted all legal challenges - filed primarily by environmental activists - against the construction of the pipeline.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), includes the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, 11 pump stations, several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal. TAPS is one of the world's largest pipeline systems. It is commonly called the Alaska Pipeline, Trans-Alaska Pipeline, or Alyeska Pipeline, (or the Pipeline as referred to in Alaska), but those terms technically apply only to the 800 miles (1,287 km) of the pipeline with the diameter of 48 inches (122 cm) that conveys oil from Prudhoe Bay, to Valdez, Alaska. The crude oil pipeline is privately owned by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
In 1968, oil reserves were discovered on the northern coast of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay, and work soon began to develop the oil field and find a way to transport the product to market. The pipeline was built between 1974 and 1977 after the 1973 oil crisis caused a sharp rise in oil prices in the United States. This rise made exploration of the Prudhoe Bay oil field economically feasible. Environmental, legal, and political debates followed the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, and the pipeline was built only after the OPEC oil embargo crisis of 1973-74 provoked the passage of legislation designed to remove legal challenges to the project. In a rare collaboration, oil companies and Alaskan Native Americans combined forces to press the government into expediting the construction of the pipeline. Native Americans of the region received allocations of millions of acres of land and over one billion dollars in compensatory payments and the petroleum businesses saved months of legislative gridlock.
The task of building the pipeline had to address a wide range of difficulties, stemming mainly from the extreme cold and the difficult, isolated terrain. The construction of the pipeline was one of the first large-scale projects to deal with problems caused by permafrost, and special construction techniques had to be developed to cope with the frozen ground. The project attracted tens of thousands of workers to Alaska, causing a boomtown atmosphere in Valdez, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.
The first barrel of oil traveled through the pipeline in 1977, and full-scale production began by the end of the year. Several notable incidents of oil leakage have occurred since, including those caused by sabotage, maintenance failures, and gunshot holes. The most significant oil spill associated with the pipeline was caused by the Exxon Valdez, and did not directly involve the pipeline. As of 2010, the pipeline has shipped almost 16 billion barrels of oil.
According to international political expert, Dr. Richard Feinberg, three transnational oil giants - BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil - own approximately 95 percent of TAPS and more than 90 percent of Alaska North Slope production, which provides about a one-fourth of the West Coast's oil supply. In recent years, the North Slope producers have been hit with a spate of fines for explosions, illegal dumping of hazardous materials and air pollution on the North Slope. At the other end of the pipeline, problems on the tankers that ply the route between Valdez, Alaska and West Coast ports were disclosed in a series of reports in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer during March 2005. In combination with the situation on TAPS, the North Slope production and tanker problems confirm this irony: ln their haste to pocket record profits from petroleum operations, much of it at the expense of the American consumer, major oil companies are short-changing the public by compromising environmental protection and operational safety.
Click the links to learn more:
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
Aleyska Pipeline Service Company
Trustees for Alaska: Impacts of TAPS
Trans-Alaska Pipeline In Trouble
Environmental Effects of TAPS
American Experience: The Alaska Pipeline
Geographic Analysis of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
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