Friday, June 15, 2007

Alaska Pipeline, Design 

After the largest oil find in North America was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, AK, along AK�s Artic Ocean coast the challenge was how to get up to 2,000,000 barrels of oil a day to market. Numerous ideas were brainstormed, evaluated and tested. One was to ship the oil by supertankers from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez or Anchorage. The company that eventually became Exxon, spent $50,000,000 on this experiment, including special ice breaking escorts with an ice-breaking tanker, only to conclude that this system would not work.

$50,000,000 invested, $0 return.

Well, if we can�t go through the ice, why not under it? Maybe submarines could take the oil south. Even flying the oil with 747 airplanes was considered. None were economically feasible for a variety of reasons. Prudhoe Bay is incredibly isolated - the only people are pipeline workers and nature. Though there is concern with this part of the country, it is barren and what we learned with the first pipeline would lead one to conclude that a second pipeline would do zero damage to the environment.

Back to the access and distribution problem of the 1970's. The only way that would work and could be consistently monitored was an overland pipeline. AK presents some of the most challenging terrain on the planet. However, ingenuity, persistence, creativity (and later discussed, adaptability) all contributed to one of the most successful engineering feats ever undertaken by man.