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Environmental impact analysis; the example of the proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline

January 1, 1974

The environmental impact analysis made as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 for the proposed trans-Alaska pipeline included consideration of the (1) technologically complex and geographically extensive proposed project, (2) extremely different physical environments across Alaska along the proposed route and elsewhere in Alaska and in Canada along alternative routes, (3) socioeconomic environment of the State of Alaska, and (4) a wide variety of alternatives.

The analysis was designed specifically to fit the project and environment that would be affected. The environment was divided into two general parts--natural physical systems and superposed socioeconomic systems--and those parts were further divided into discipline-oriented systems or components that were studied and analyzed by scientists of the appropriate discipline. Particular attention was given to potential feedback loops in the impact network and to linkages between the project's impacting effects and the environment.

The results of the analysis as reported in the final environmental impact statement were that both unavoidable and threatened environmental impacts would result from construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed pipeline system and the developments related to it. The principal unavoidable effects would be (1) disturbances of terrain, fish and wildlife habitat, and human environs, (2) the results of the discharge of effluent from the tanker-ballast-treatment facility into Port Valdez and of some indeterminate amount of oil released into the ocean from tank-cleaning operations at sea, and (3) the results associated with increased human pressures of all kinds on the environment. Other unavoidable effects would be those related to increase of State and Native Corporation revenues, accelerated cultural change of the Native population, and extraction of the oil and gas resource. The main threatened environmental effects would all be related to unintentional oil loss from the pipeline, from tankers, or in the oil field. Oil losses from the pipeline could be caused by direct or indirect effects of earthquakes, destructive sea waves, slope failure caused by natural or artificial processes, thaw-plug instability (in permafrost), differential settlement of permafrost terrain, and bed scour and bank erosion at stream crossings. Oil loss from tankers could be caused by accidents during transfer operations at Valdez and at destination ports and by casualties involving tankers and other ships.

Comparison of alternative routes and transportation systems and of their environmental impacts provided information which indicates to the author that one corridor containing both oil and gas pipelines would have less environmental impact than would separate corridors. Considering also the threat to the marine environment that any tanker system would impose and the threat that zones of high earthquake frequency and magnitude would impose on pipelines, it is apparent to the author that environmental impact and cost would be least for a single-corridor on-land route that avoided earthquake zones. The alternative trans-Alaska-Canada routes would meet these criteria.

The decisions of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Congress, and the President of the United States in favor of the proposed trans-Alaska pipeline system indicate the relative weight given by the decision makers in balancing the importance of potential environmental consequences against the advantages to be derived from rapid resource development.

Publication Year 1974
Title Environmental impact analysis; the example of the proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline
DOI 10.3133/cir695
Authors David A. Brew
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Circular
Series Number 695
Index ID cir695
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse