But those were hardly the only issues, he
adds. Among the most severe technical problems: About 600 miles of the pipeline are within areas of perennially frozen ground, which
meant there had to be multiple designs drafted.
“Should heat transmitted from the hot oil
pipeline or any ground surface disturbance
created by construction activities cause thaw-
ing of the underlying permafrost soils, subse-
quent thaw settlement of the pipeline would
create pipeline stability concerns,” Riddle says.
“Different construction modes were estab-
lished for different soil and permafrost condi-
tions anticipated along the alignment. Con-
ventional buried pipe was specified for most
areas where permafrost was not anticipated or
where permafrost was considered thaw-stable.
An elevated pipeline mode was designed for
areas of thaw-unstable permafrost. Several ar-
eas required special refrigerated burial.”
It was no easy feat. But, according to Alyes-
ka, construction on roads and facilities, as well
as the pipeline, started in April 1974. About
three years later, in June 1977, the project was
completed. Oil first started flowing June 20,
1977 and the first tanker loaded with Alaska
North Slope crude left Valdez August 1.
It was a staggering accomplishment.
Norton remembers the successes and
some key moments as pipeline construction
rolled on, both as an early employee and as a
current contractor for Alyeska providing embedded professional staff when needed.
In 2002, for instance, when it came time for
the renewal of the thirty-year lease of right-of-way from federal and state governments, a new
environmental impact statement was required,
including a retrofit of the seismic design.
“Thirty years later, the government was
saying that the state-of-the-art seismic had
changed. We said nothing needs to be ret-rofitted. We were at a standstill not knowing how to convince the government it was
okay and the government was not willing to
take our word for it,” Norton recalls. That’s
when nature stepped in. Alaska was hit by a
7. 9 earthquake on November 3, 2002. “It was
the biggest at that time since the big one in
1964,” Norton says. “The Denali fault slipped
like a dozen feet. The pipeline was specially
designed, crossing that fault on sliding skids.
The fault slipped and the pipeline performed
like it was supposed to. This was like a full-scale bench test and it worked, which was
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From the North Slope to Cook Inlet, PRA’s professional and highly skilled
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“We need to diversify, but we are a resource-rich state—oil, gas,
[and] coal. It’s all about the development of our resources.”
Governor, State of Alaska
Experts: Pipeline is forty
years old, but the pipe itself
has unlimited lifespan. Steel
doesn’t age as long as it is
© Alyeska Pipeline