PubTalk 10/2004 — Hot Oil, Frozen Ground, and Earthquakes
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline story-- so far, so good!
by George Gryc, Arthur Lachenbruch, and Robert Page, Scientists Emeriti
- The 1968 discovery of North America.s largest oil fi eld on the Arctic coast posed the challenge of an 800-mile pipeline to carry hot oil across mountains, rivers, and the giant Denali Fault
- The oil industry's plan was to bury the hot pipeline, even through extensive tracts of permafrost (frozen ground)
- After USGS scientists raised the alarm about hazards to the pipeline and the environment, a USGS working group set performance requirements for the pipeline
- Redesign of the pipeline--elevated over ice-rich permafrost and set on "sliders" across the Denali Fault--delayed the project 2 years and increased its cost from $900 million to $8 billion
- When the Denali Fault slipped 14 feet under the pipeline in a powerful 2002 quake, the design worked--no oil was spilled!
- The story of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline has been a complex battle of scientific, economic, safety, environmental, and political concerns--what lessons can we learn from it?