Sunday, June 17, 2007

Alaska Pipeline, Technology 

Previous posts have alluded to technology�s role in the building of this engineering marvel. The scale and logistics to complete this pipeline was unbelievable. The actual physical installation was completed in 2.5 construction seasons.

When you look at the referenced pipeline photos, you will notice metal fins at the top of the vertical H supports. These fins act as coolants � they provide for the heat of the oil to be sent into the atmosphere in order to keep the permafrost from melting. The small squares underneath the pipe have been designed to allow the pipe to shift from side to side during an earthquake.

Original plans had to be adapted. In one area, the Gulkana River, the plan to bury the pipe had to be scrapped because of ice. A bridge was needed. There was no time to build a bridge � engineers needed to find one! They did, in Japan. Without this bridge, the pipeline would have experienced a one-year delay.

A second major hassle was constructing the pipeline over the 2,771� Thompson Pass near Valdez. It was extremely steep, almost vertical and there was no alternative route. The engineers, creative again, devised an aerial tramway (think of a ski lift) to which they hooked the pipe to cables and �flew� it into position. Welders hung off safety harnesses to weld together the pieces of pipe.

A final test of the pipeline occurred in 2002 when a 7.9 (out of possible 10) earthquake ripped across AK�s interior. This earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded in the United States, did nothing to the pipeline � it held. No leaks, no breakage, no accidents, etc.

In conclusion, ingenuity, necessity, and talent built the pipeline. The caribou herds are increasing; the permafrost is protected; the revenues from the oil fund more than 80% of the AK state government budget and citizens are paid an annual bonus.

The knowledge gained from this experience shows that we can do anything we put our mind to doing. It is truly a wonder of the world.

Etched next to an Alaska-shaped piece of the pipeline are the words: �We didn�t know it could be done.� But, in true American fashion, we did it.

Decided to post - having problems with I'net access and photo transfer. More when I return.