A visit to Alaska isn't complete until you've visited one of man's greatest construction achievements....the 800 mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This monster snakes along and under rivers, mountain valleys and tundra from Prudhoe Bay in the north to the port of Valdez in the south. From conception to land acquisition and bitter politics the pipeline was an unbelievable undertaking even before the first pipe was laid. The logistics of this project were unique but the environment to be traversed was the ultimate challenge. This pipeline cut through some of the fiercest terrain on earth. After four years of labor with a combined workforce of 70,000 and an 8 billion dollar investment the pipeline was no longer a dream.
The 1959 Statehood Act entitled Alaska and it's native population to split up millions of acres of what had been federal land. State officials selected a 1.8 million acre wedge of the Arctic coastal plain between the Naval Petroleum Reserve to the west and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east on the advice of the state geologist. In 1964 the state offered oil and gas leases with Prudhoe Bay included. At this sale,Richfield Oil,now the Atlantic Richfield Company, and Humble Oil, now Exxon, picked up more than 71,000 acres. British Petroleum also acquired leases on this subsurface structure.Geologists knew that a well which began producing barrels of oil in 1967 was big but no one knew exactly how big.An eventual study estimated there was up to 10 billion barrels of oil and 26 trillion feet of natural gas which astounded the petroleum industry. Those numbers represent one-third of America's reserves of oil and the biggest find in North America.
In February of 1969 it was announced that a 48 inch, 800 mile long pipeline would be constructed. Originally it was to begin in 1970 and be completed in 1972 with the projected cost of $900 million. It's initial capacity would be 500,000 barrels a day and up to 2 million barrels a day by 1980.Numerous factors would set back these dates. By the time construction began with delay costs and inflation the price tag jumped to 3.5 billion. The largest legal hurdle was settled with the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement. This act gave the natives the right to select 44 million acres of land and receive $462 million over an 11 year period plus a 2% mineral royality until an additional $500 million was paid. The Trans Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973 was signed by president Nixon and the project shifted into high gear.
Initially, a road that would be used to build and maintain the pipeline was built. It ran from Fairbanks to the north with existing routes used in the south. During this period 29 camps were built along it's 800 mile stretch. 19 of these were major sites with 15 of those located north of the Yukon River. The first major undertaking was the anchor structures erected every 800 to 1800 feet to support the pipe.These allow the pipeline to shift due to thermal expansion and seismic activity. Because of heavy seismic activity here the pipeline design permits as much as 20 feet of horizontal and 5 feet of vertical motion.
At one highway crossing and two points where caribou migration routes cross the pipeline in permafrost soils,the pipe is buried in a refrigerated ditch. At more than 800 river and stream crossings, the pipe either bridges the waterway or is buried beneath it. At most small streams, the elevated pipe bridges the water on conventional supports.At 14 places there were special bridges built. Pipe across the Yukon River is attached to a highway bridge. Special suspension bridges were constructed across the Tanana and Tazlina rivers, and a tied-arch bridge was designed for the Gulkana River.
On June 20,1977 the first North Slope crude oil began it's journey from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and history's largest privately financed construction project was in operation. After moving through pump stations along the line it is loaded aboard tankers at the Marine Terminal of Port Valdez. This 1,000 acre site sits along an 11 mile long fiord in Prince William Sound. It is the northernmost ice-free harbor in the United States.Other than a catastrophic tanker spill off the coast (Exxon Valdez) the pipeline itself has been a success despite recent reports of disrepair.
There are numerous viewing sites where you can stand next to,touch or photograph the pipeline,it's curves,elevated sections and bridges. It is one of man's greatest construction projects ever and yes it's here.....in Alaska......of course.....Enjoy......Dave.