After the discovery of oil in the desolate area of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 1968, the need for a system of transporting oil from the region became apparent. Upon considering several options, involved oil companies settled on constructing an elaborate pipeline system which would transport oil from Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope to the Port of Valdez, where it could be picked up by oil tankers for shipment to the lower 48 states. The project was to begin with the construction of a haul road to carry supplies and workers to the remote areas through which the pipeline would transport oil over miles of mountains, rivers and streams.
While the pipeline system was determined to be the most economical option that would meet the logistical needs of the oil companies, it was not met without opposition from native villagers and environmental activists. Natives filed a law suit to prevent the haul road from being built through their land, and several environmental groups filed suit based on claims that construction of the pipeline would violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA). The project was delayed for several years due to lawsuits and red tape in obtaining federal and state right of way and all of the required permits for the project.
Having overcome years of obstacles, the companies could finally commence construction on the haul road in 1974. Dalton Highway is the present day road that evolved from the original pipeline haul road, on which construction began on April 29, 1974. After five months of construction, the haul road was completed in September, and thus construction on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began the following March.
In depth evaluations of the environment during the planning stages led to design modifications from the originally planned underground pipeline. The threat of structural support issues in earthquake prone areas and areas with unstable permafrost led to a design with more than half of the length of the pipeline being constructed above ground. Heat from underground pipeline can thaw the permafrost, and thus underground pipeline construction is limited to areas with stable, solid rock.
In just over two years, the approximately 800 mile pipeline was completed between Alaska’s North Slope and the Port of Valdez. Juneau became the first vessel to pick up crude oil from the Port of Valdez that had made the journey from Alaska’s North Slope. Today, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which is a conglomerate of several pipeline companies, operates and maintains the pipeline and offers educational tours to the public.
About the Author: Bob Jent is the CEO of Western Pipeline Corporation. Western Pipeline Corp specializes in identifying, acquiring and developing existing, producing reserves on behalf of its individual clients.