Trans Alaska Pipeline in Valdez

Photo of Trans Alaska Pipeline in Valdez, Alaska
Photo of Trans Alaska Pipeline in Valdez, Alaska
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Trans Alaska Pipeline

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Built over, under, and through some of the harshest climates on Earth, the Trans Alaska Pipeline is evidence of man's desire to overcome natural obstacles in pursuit of his own interests. The structure runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Prince William Sound in the Pacific Ocean's Gulf of Alaska. It was built by a consortium of petroleum companies in order to tap the riches of the state's North Slope. Because of permafrost, much of the pipeline -- about 420 miles of it -- runs above ground, supported by a collection of 78,000 supports. The above-ground sections are built along a zig-zag path designed to minimize the effects of a strong earthquake, and temperature fluctuations. There are some areas where it was buried, including mountain crossings, and four miles of the pipeline that is actually refrigerated underground. Some of those underground segments are installed where the pipeline crosses rivers and streams. There are more than 800 such crossings, and some are buried beneath the river bed, while others soar above the water on massive suspension bridges. Today the pipeline is managed by Alyeska Pipeline Services Company. It transmits 2,136,000 barrels of oil per day and holds 9,065,065 barrels of oil at any one time.

Quick Facts
  • The pipeline is 48 inches in diameter.
  • It three-quarters of an inch thick, and wrapped in four inches of insulation.
  • It is designed to survive earthquakes up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.
  • The pipeline crosses three major fault lines.
  • The oil inside the pipeline moves at 5.4 miles per hour.
  • The oil comes out of the Earth too hot to transport. It has to be cooled to 120 degrees before entering the main pipeline.
  • It takes almost six days for oil to make the trip from one end of the pipeline to the other.
  • Construction required 1,347 state and federal permits.
  • 70,000 contractors and Alyeska employees were used to build the pipeline.
  • Electrical currents in the Earth called "telluric currents" are conducted by the pipeline. They are returned to the ground through zinc anodes.
  • December, 1999 - A man is arrested for plotting to blow up the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Alfred Heinz Reumayr planned to plant 14 bombs along the length of the pipeline. They were supposed to explode 1 January, 2000. Reumayr was going to purchase oil futures in order to cash in on his mayhem.
  • 3 November, 2002 - The pipeline is shut down for a few days for a safety check after part of it was rocked by a 7.9 earthquake that damaged part of it about 100 miles southwest of Fairbanks.
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