50 years ago, protests and promises launched the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Declining oil production poses dangers to the massive structure

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was an engineering marvel when it was constructed, but declining oil production has rendered its future uncertain.

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Getting set for a black gold rush, Science News, February 14, 1970 —

Nobody has ever done what the engineers designing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline are faced with: the need to carry hot oil through the Arctic. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, expected to be completed in 1972, will carry 600,000 barrels of oil a day across Alaska.

Update

Despite protests by environmental activists and Native Americans, the pipeline was completed in 1977. In the mid-1980s, the pipeline moved about 25 percent of all U.S.-produced oil and could deliver more than 2 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But U.S. oil production has declined since 1988, so the flow has slowed. That allows the oil to cool en route and water to pool in the system, raising fears of corrosion, ruptures and oil spills. The 1,288-kilometer pipeline must by law be dismantled and removed if it’s shut down. But after hundreds of thousands of hectares in Alaska were auctioned off in December for oil development, and with millions more still set to be auctioned, a shutdown may not come anytime soon.

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