The pipeline across Alaska was one of the most ambitious and debated construction efforts mounted by private industry in American history. It presented construction problems, such as how to avoid damaging the permafrost, and aroused intense political controversy at both the state and national levels.
In 1967, Governor Walter
The possibility of transporting Arctic oil south by tanker was tested in the exploratory voyage of the Exxon Manhattan in 1969, which successfully transited from the Atlantic to the Beaufort Sea via the Northwest Passage but was forced to alter course because of sea ice. The Exxon Manhattan’s experience meant that transport by land was the only viable option. On February 10, 1969, plans to construct the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System were announced. This forty-eight-inch pipeline across interior Alaska would move heated crude oil south from Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez. By September, 1969, all major surveys of the proposed overland route had been completed, and a seven-company consortium led by British Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield, and Humble Oil was formed under the name Alyeska, with lease rights to portions of the new field opened for bid by the state of Alaska.
The last portion of the Alaska Pipeline is installed.
The announcement of the existence of this new oil field touched off a complex national and local debate, which was in full swing by the autumn of 1969.
On November 16, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the
The impact of the project on the financial structure and institutions of Alaska was diverse, placing new burdens on every aspect of the economy from housing to banking, construction, and transportation (in particular the airlines), and resulting in a major cash influx that stimulated price inflation in many sectors. The primary contribution of the pipeline was to generate revenue to provide nearly 90 percent of the income of the state of Alaska, which had no sales tax or personal income tax. By the end of the first decade of operation, concerns arose over problems of internal and external corrosion. However, despite these concerns, the success of the pipeline project served as a model for further construction in the Alaskan arctic, centered on deposits of natural gas rather than petroleum, which continued into the early twenty-first century.
Although the problem of potential spills was emphasized by an accident in 1978 and an act of sabotage in 2001 that involved someone shooting at the pipeline while intoxicated, the overall record of management and maintenance supports the pipeline proponents’ claims that the project has been of significant financial benefit to both Alaska and the United States. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System monitors its environmental impact on fish populations, derivative erosion, bird nesting patterns (over 170 species have been identified along the pipeline route), and permafrost dynamics, the latter of major concern, with 75 percent of the total pipeline course lying within permafrost terrain of some type. By 2007, the pipeline was moving more than 15 million barrels of oil per year, although declining overall production stimulated reexploration of the North Slope and interest in potential new fields beneath the Arctic Ocean.
“Alaska, North Slope Producers Strike Deal on Pipeline.” American Gas 88, no. 4 (May, 2006): 11. Useful summary of early planning efforts for the proposed natural gas pipeline. Berry, Mary Clay. The Alaska Pipeline: The Politics of Oil and Native Land Claims. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. Discussion of the political issues (especially internal Alaskan matters) surrounding the project and the financial settlements that were required to build the pipeline system. Coates, Peter A. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Controversy: Technology, Conservation, and the Frontier. Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University, 1991. The Alaska Pipeline and the consequences of its construction are considered within the history of conflict between supporters of development and environmentalists. Cooper, Bryan. Alaska: The Last Frontier. London: Hutchinson, 1972. An account of Alaska as it was during the early 1970’s, with the effect of the proposed construction of the pipeline discussed in detail. Gimbel, Barney. “The Hunt for Oil at the Top of the World.” Fortune 157, no. 9 (May 5, 2008): 96-102. Discusses the proposals for accessing the oil deposits beneath the Arctic Ocean. Lasley, John. “ Steps to a North Slope Gas Pipeline.” Oil and Gas Investor (October, 2005): 64. Brief summary of the four envisioned stages of the gas pipeline development. Nelson, Daniel. Northern Landscapes: The Struggle for Wilderness Alaska. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 2004. A status report on technology and wilderness in Alaska at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with a chapter on the legacy of the Alaska Pipeline project.
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