Trans Alaska Pipeline: Clash Of Black And Green Report Sample
Recently, President Barack Obama cited numerous ecological and fiscal protests against the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline facility. The proposed $5 billion facility is projected to transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada south through the United States and onto the Gulf of Mexico. The construction and operation of the facility is expected to generate and sustain approximately 40,000 jobs. It must be noted that the debate regarding the Keystone facility resembles that of another highly charged environment related project, the Trans-Alaska pipeline facility (Moore, Griffith 1).
After the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, regarded as one of the largest oil finds in American history, the establishment of a stable system to ship crude oil from the North Slope region in Alaska to refining facilities on the continental United States became an imperative need. A number of solutions were proposed- ice breaker tankers can be used to pass through the Northwest Passage, enormous tanker aircraft, as well as expanding the Alaska rail system to Prudhoe Bay.
In the end, oil players believed that the most cost efficient shipping option was the construction of a “hot oil” pipeline facility emanating from Alaska’s Northern Slopes oil fields to the Port of Valdez, where the oil can then be loaded on oil tankers and transported to the West Coast. Owing to conflicts regarding claims over Native American lands, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, in 1966, ordered a temporary stoppage on “development, homesteading, and Federal and state land selection on all public lands in Alaska.” The stoppage was still in force when oil companies applied for a “right- of-way” permit in 1969 to begin the construction of the pipeline (Clifton, Gallaway 1.3-1).
The debate on the construction of the Alaskan pipeline began in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the Northern Slope oil fields, in Prudhoe Bay. The field was soon discovered to be the largest oil resource in the United States, larger than fields in Texas. Initial production projections for the field placed output figures at 10 billion barrels; at present projections from the field have risen to 25 billion barrels. Surveyors from large oil exploration companies feverishly worked to develop the best way to ship the large oil deposits from oil fields to processing facilities in the “lower 48” states.
These groups posed the same argument then as it is now that the continued utilization of oil will have deleterious effects and to refrain from being overly infatuated with economic progress to preserve what remains of the planet’s resources. This period was a time when Malthusian interests regarding shriveling limited resources were rampant and preservationists were trumpeting then as now that the planet was wasting scarce oil resources as well as other non-renewable energy resources. The arguments against the construction and operation of the pipeline facility included persistent oil leakages as a result of earthquakes or other natural disasters, disturbances to the native Alaskan population, threats to fish populations as well as to the other wildlife in the area, including polar bear, moose, and elk.
Even the government recognized the threat; in the final “environmental impact statement” by the United States Interior Department, the possibility that “one or more” massive earthquakes would happen in the approximate area of the pipeline is significantly high; in fact, the reports a high certainty that a massive tremor will occur. “Seismic shaking” or “surface faulting” in the immediate wake of a massive tremor can fracture the pipeline, or result in a debilitation of the foundations of the pipeline that can also result in the breaching of the pipeline. One of the more constant claims against the operation of the facility was the threat on the wildlife; a breach at any point in the pipeline at any time can result in an environmental debacle spread over a large area.
In addition, the large upswing in the jobs associated with the construction of the oil transport facility will only be transitory; it is expected that at the termination of construction activities, unemployment figures will rise. Other more militant groups argued that the construction of the TAPS would permanently alter the “way of life” and the grandeur of the Alaskan wilderness; other preservationist groups have argued that the construction of the pipeline as well as the other attendant building and exploitation activities will inflict serious and irreversible damage to the Alaskan ecological scenario (Griffith, Moore 1).
At the time of its construction, the TAPS was the biggest construction project funded by the private sector in the world. Costing $8 billion, the structure includes the 880 mile pipeline facility and the Valdez Marine Terminal, where the oil from the fields is loaded onto tankers for transport and distribution to markets. The system has become a design icon that stands at present. Majority of the pipeline facility is above ground; this will prevent the “hot oil” from dissolving the floes that is prevalent along the route (Conoco Phillips 1).
The TAPS facility is regarded as a technological phenomenon, a triumph of American energy policy directives that successfully decreased the heavy dependence of the United States on Middle Eastern oil imports. In addition, the project is widely held as one of the most profitable groundwork projects in the history of the United States. For the past four decades, the facility has successfully shipped 17 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to $1.7 trillion in present-day dollars.
Furthermore, the TAPS has helped in reestablishing the Alaskan economy, pushing the state into the second largest oil producing territory in the United States and shifted Alaska’s oil producing facility into one of the most extensive in the world. Taken within the context of the Alaskan economy, a research study conducted by the University of Alaska proffers that the industry either directly or indirectly sustains 110,000 local jobs. All of these positive effects were realized and resulted even in the actualization of a number of ecological benefits (Moore, Griffith 1).
Issues with the pipeline continued even after a number of claims were settled. Environmentalists were still apprehensive on the possible threats that can occur with the operation of the pipeline. Withal, the Arab oil interdiction incident swayed public opinion in the way of locating and exploiting another energy source. Then President Richard Nixon endorsed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act after Vice President Spiro Agnew broke a deadlock in the Senate (Gallaway, Clifton 1.3-1).
Litigation brought on by conservationist groups continued to straggle for four years; congressional hearings were often bitter and factious, and the Arab oil sanction threw the American economy into a tail spin, with gasoline prices rising eventually to peak at thrice its price prior to the embargo. The energy impasse served as the catalyst that moved Congress into action. The Senate, on an extremely tight vote (49-48), implemented an amendment to definitely terminate all lawsuits by stating that the proposed pipeline groundwork had complied with NEPA standards. 20 of the 55 senators aligned with the Democratic Party approved the amendment, compared to 28 of the 42 senators from the Republicans. Though there was a motion to reconsider the vote, the move ultimately failed, as then Vice President Agnew casting the deciding vote. The House followed soon after, voting 356-60. Construction began in 1975, and the positive impacts have been felt in the American economy since (Moore, Griffith 1).
The law was designed to guarantee that in the wake of the embargo, US national interests in the “early delivery” of oil coming from the North Slope fields to local markets, the construction of the pipeline will proceed without any other hindrance. The law obligated the Interior of the Secretary to sanction the Federal “right-of-way” for the pipeline, which was enacted on the 23rd of January, 1974 (Gallaway, Clifton 1.3-1).
However, before the commencement of production in the 1970s, a group of scientists journeyed to Alaska to record the possible effects of the pipeline on the ecology of the area. At first, the team studied the caribou herds as well as that of the various mammals in the area; furthermore, a study was undertaken on furbearing wildlife to identify the behavior of these animals without the mechanical interference. The caribou showed little variation in their routes when simulated mechanical interventions were introduced. This was the same case of furbearing mammals in the immediate area of the pipeline; the trapping industry was a significant contributor to the local economy, and experts wanted to ensure the viability of the local fur trade market (Burak, Coyle, Arrigo 1).
Nevertheless, with infrastructures of this magnitude, mishaps should not come as a surprise. A recent oil spill from the TAPS facility resulted in the unnecessary discharge of a little over 5,000 barrels; the discharge was the third largest in the history of the operation of the facility. The company in charge of the operations of the TAPS, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, restarted the operations of the pipeline after closing down facility operations for three days. The spill resulted in an eight percent decrease in production output implemented by the oil companies harnessing the North Slope fields-BP, Conoco, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Koch Industries- to retain the scarce oil-storage resources adjacent to the fields from over spilling while the company sought to address the situation.
It was the dearth of storage capacity that resulted in the run out in the TAPS’ Pump Station number 9. In the course of a regular maintenance check, the power at the facility fluctuated, resulting in the accidental opening of a valve and discharge the oil into a storage facility, causing the spill. Oil trickled into a buffered secondary storage facility, preventing any additional discharges from the facility. Prior to the spill, the pipeline was also involved in other spills.
A over spill in 1978 at Steele Creek resulted in more than 670,000 gallons, or approximately 16,000 barrels to stream out of the pipeline before Alyeska could finally arrest the leak. A shooting incident in 2001 caused approximately 250,000 gallons or more than 6,100 barrels of oil to spew from the line. The fiscal damage to the pipeline was also extensive; for the time that the facility was closed down, the TAPS lost $45 million in production output from the North Slope fields and $13 million in state earnings daily (Holland 1).
Nevertheless, though the TAPS certainly has adverse ecological effects, the facility is a better method of shipping oil from the Northern Alaska fields. Should a road network have been constructed, pollution coming from the road materials would have rendered plants to be susceptible to pest infestation. In addition, the road system would allow further exploration, and possible ecological destruction, of the Prudhoe Bay area.
Moreover, road networks and rail systems are a larger problem for trekking mammals. It is estimated that 200 moose are accidentally killed by trains, and more than 700 are hit by cars and other vehicles. However, one of the more critical problems associated with the Alaskan Pipeline is the risk for oil leakages. In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, resulting in the discharge of over 250,000 barrels of oil. This specific incident will account for 75 percent of all the oil unnecessarily discharged by the facility.
Withal, the particular discharge cannot be blamed on the pipeline, but on the negligent conduct of the captain of the Valdez who wrecked the ship. It must be noted that four of the five leading spills by the facility are discharges from oil carriers. The dangers of a calamitous oil discharge would still be prevalent if the oil was transported by ships direct from Prudhoe Bay rather than via the pipeline facility. In addition, the worst oil spillages occurred before 1990. After the Exxon Valdez incident, the government increased the number of regulations related to shipping out of environmental considerations.
For example, the standards for oil tanker pilots and navigators qualifications were heightened and guide ships were now mandatory to maneuver the tankers through Prince William Sound. Furthermore, the warning systems on the pipeline have been upgraded to identify leaks in the facility quickly. The “line volume balance system” rates the cumulative amount of oil as against the amount of oil to establish possible slow leaks within the pipeline system. Aside from this innovation, a “transient volume balance” mechanism was integrated in 1998 and utilizes extensive computer systems to establish the possible pressure build ups in the pipeline and compares these readings to actual readings from the facility.
The TAPS only ships oil; by being exclusive in its function, the facility safeguards against the extraction of metals, agronomical products, and a host of other natural resources that could be exploited. This undisturbed range of land can be protected and defended as the oil is shipped without the need of roads, and the prevailing system does not support future or additional extirpation of other natural assets in the area.
An alternative mode of shipping the oil from the Slope fields is to transport the oil via the Trans-Canada Corridor. However, whether the transport mode here is by road or by rail, the alternative would still have to go through the core of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. One of the species that would be negatively impacted is the Alaskan musk ox. The ANWR area is a critical refuge for the musk ox in the state, placed at 1,000 in total. The survival of the specie will be greatly aided by research and funding, and not by the construction of roads or railroads in their refuge.
Curiously, musk oxen have been seen father west of Prudhoe Bay; this can be taken as the musk oxen have been able to traverse under the raised portions of the TAPS. It is uncertain whether the oxen will cross the proposed roads or rails that would be constructed in their area. Prior to the operation of the TAPS, oil was transported straight from the Prudhoe Bay region by tankers. The risk of the approach makes the option too ecologically precarious. Though transporting the oil by ship east by way of the Arctic Ocean, the ice can puncture the hull and result in oil leaks.
In addition, the Arctic waters are home to many sensitive ecological marine systems. Traversing this route will also have the ships run through the rich fishing grounds in Nova Scotia, and traveling though the Bering Sea is risky as tankers would have to avoid colliding with a minimum of 250 fishing boats each trip; these sea crafts have poor navigational systems, tankers will face a heightened risk of colliding with these fishing boats. On the whole, the minimal ecological effect of the TAPS posited by the prevailing route of the facility is acceptable compared to the road, rail and shipping options (Burak, Coyle, Arrigo 1).
The Exxon spill also fueled the impetus to the development of a centralized administrative agency to monitor all preparation, implementation, and maintenance of all pipeline facilities in Alaska as well as attendant structures and systems. In the early 1990s, Alyeska, the consortium tasked to run the facility, started with the biggest post-construction project in the history of the TAPS: the “Atigun reroute.” The redirect was initiated owing to information given by “smart pigs” deployed during the initial years of corrosion inspections on the pipeline. The discovery of rust in the pipeline in the covered portion crossing the Atigun River resulted in the substitution of an 8.5 mile segment of the pipe (Clifton, Gallaway 1.3-4).
Though the method of shipping oil via the TAPS facility may not be the least expensive or cost beneficial, it is considered as one of the least harmful to the environment. Should the oil be seen as a part of the issue in the global pollution concern, it can be said that the pipeline is a negative model for sustainable development. Withal, the TAPS is the most viable method of shipping the oil from the fields. Though the pipeline is designed to be the most efficient and safest mode to transport the oil, there are still issues that will continue to hound the operation of the pipeline (Burak, Coyle, Arrigo 1).
After 40 years, the United States is rehashing the debate of the TAPS though in a different situation. The objections of the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are the same as those posed by castigators of the TAPS; the development of transitory jobs, water resources would be threatened, the oil will be diverted to the global market rather than be used in the local market. Environmentalists even claim that the pipeline will kill off jobs and weaken US energy sufficiency. Nevertheless, the projections of the Keystone pipeline, as with the TAPS facility, are robust (Moore, Griffith 1).
The TAPS faces an uncertain future. At the pace that oil resources are being utilized, the pipeline will continue to be a significant player in American energy policy formulation. However, with the growing realization of the dangers of continued and unabated use of oil as well as other fossil based fuel resources to the global environment, the significance of oil as a primary energy source will be lessened. American government officials are obligated to restore the affected areas; nevertheless, the assurance that the plentiful oil reserves will remain to provide vast amounts is not completely insured.
Studies need to be conducted to find substitute and reliable technologies to extract oil from Alaska in the event that the pipeline is closed down. In addition, policy makers should also be prepared for the growing negative impacts of climate change; terrorist threats also need to be monitored and dealt with. Until such time, the TAPS is the most efficient and economical manner that is in operation at the present (Burak, Coyle, Arrigo 1).
Burak, Pete, Coyle, Bradford, and Arrigo, Mike, “The Alaskan Pipeline: a necessary obstruction (environmental effects of the Alaska Pipeline),” <http://sitemaker.umich.edu/section003_group001/home
Clifton, L.J., Gallaway, B.J. “History of Trans-Alaska Pipeline System” <http://tapseis.anl.gov/documents/docs/Section_13_May2.pdf
Conoco Phillips-Alaska. “Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).” <http://alaska.conocophillips.com/who-we-are/alaska-operations/Pages/trans-alaska-pipeline-system.aspx
Holland, Megan (2010, 28 May). Trans-Alaska pipeline spill toll 5,000 barrels. Alaska Dispatch News Economy (Anchorage).
Moore, Stephen, Griffith, Joel, “The Trans-Alaska Pipeline: Lessons for the Keystone XL Pipeline debate.” <http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/11/the-trans-alaska-pipeline-lessons-for-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-debate