North Slope oil began moving through the 800-mile pipeline system in 1977.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, designed and constructed to carry billions of barrels of North Slope oil to the port of Valdez, has been recognized as a landmark of engineering. The first barrel of oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay oilfield would arrive at the Port of Valdez on July 28, 1977, after a 38-day, 800-mile journey.
With the laying of the first section of pipe on March 27, 1975, construction began on what at the time was the largest private construction project in American history.
A tie-breaking, deciding vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Spiro Agnew had passed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act on July 17, 1973. Years of debate about the project’s environmental impact escalated. Concerns were raised about earthquakes and elk migrations.
The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, including pumping stations, connecting pipelines, and the ice-free Valdez Marine Terminal, ended up costing billions. The last pipeline weld was completed on May 31, 1977.
On June 20, 1977, oil from the North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field began flowing to the port of Valdez at four miles an hour through the 48-inch-wide pipe. It arrived at the port eight days later.
The completed pipeline system, at a cost of $8 billion, including terminal and pump stations, will transport about 20 percent of U.S. petroleum production. Tax revenues alone earned Alaskans about $50 billion by 2002.
Special engineering was required to protect the environment in difficult construction conditions, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Details about the pipeline’s history include:
- Oil was first discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope in 1968.
- Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was established in 1970 to design, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline.
- The state of Alaska entered into a right-of-way agreement on May 3, 1974; the lease was renewed in November of 2002.
- Thickness of the pipeline wall: .462 inches (466 miles) & .562 inches (334 miles).
- The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System cross the ranges of the Central Arctic heard on the North Slope and the Nelchina Herd in the Copper River Basin.
- The Valdez Terminal covers 1,000 acres and has facilities for crude oil metering, storage, transfer and loading.
- The pipeline project involved some 70,000 workers from 1969 through 1977.
- The first pipe of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was laid on March 27, 1975. Last weld was completed May 31, 1977.
- The pipeline is often referred to as “TAPS” – an acronym for the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
- More than 170 bird species have been identified along the pipeline.
- First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
- 71 gate valves can block oil flow in either direction on the pipeline.
- First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
- Maximum daily throughput was 2,145,297 on January 14, 1988.
- The pipeline is inspected and regulated by the State Pipeline Coordinator’s Office.
More than 28,000 people worked directly on the pipeline at the peak of its construction in the fall of 1975.
Thirty-one construction camps, built on gravel to insulate and help prevent pollution to the underlying permafrost, are built along the route.
Above-ground sections of the pipeline (420 miles) are built in a zigzag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes.
Anchor structures, 700 feet to 1,800 feet apart, hold the pipe in position. In warm permafrost and other areas where heat might cause undesirable thawing, the supports contain two each, two-inch pipes called “heat pipes.”
The first tanker carrying North Slope oil from the new pipeline sails out of the Valdez Marine Terminal on August 1, 1977. By 2010, the pipeline will have carried about 16 billion barrels of oil.
According to the Energy Information Administration, Alaska’s oil production peaked in 1988 at 738 million barrels, about 25 percent of U.S. oil production. In 2013, it was nearly 188 million barrels, or about seven percent of total U.S. production.
The Prudhoe Bay field was discovered in March 1968 by Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and Exxon 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The first Alaska oil well with commercial production was completed in 1902 in a region where oil seeps had been known for years. The Alaska Steam Coal & Petroleum Syndicate produced the oil near the remote settlement of Katalla on Alaska’s southern coastline. The oilfield there also led to construction of Alaska Territory’s first refinery.
Recommended Reading: The Great Alaska Pipeline (1988); Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.
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Citation Information – Article Title: “Trans-Alaska Pipeline History.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/trans-alaska-pipeline. Last Updated: June 10 20201. Original Published Date: June 20, 2015.