The Trans-Alaska Pipeline has now been in operation for 30 years, without any major incident to the main line, though a 6,000 bbl oil spill from a flowline happened in 2006. Over the pipeline’s lifetime it has transported 15 Bbbl of oil. The throughput has decreased, from more than 2 MMbbl/d at the peak to around 1MMbbl/d now, and some of the original eight pump stations have been decommissioned.
Current Arctic proposals
Currently, a pipeline is being proposed to bring approximately 30 trillion cubic feet of stranded gas on the North Slope of Alaska to markets. Many different competing schemes have been investigated, but the most likely to succeed is a pipeline south to the Fairbanks area, and then southeast along the Alaska Highway into Canada. Those routes too are controversial, but the pipeline is extremely popular in Alaska, and the recently resigned Governor Sarah Palin had made it one of her target projects. New Governor Sean Parnell is expected to continue advocacy of the gas pipeline. An unlikely alternative is an offshore pipeline in the Arctic Ocean, eastward parallel to the coast, to link into a Canadian gas pipeline from the Mackenzie Delta region. A Fairbanks newspaper condemned that option as the very worst for Alaska and one that must be fought relentlessly, because it would deprive the state of jobs.
The Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline has been argued about for almost as long as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline has existed, but nothing has been built. Much engineering was done in the 1970s, and there were hearings in front of the Berger Commission, but in the end the Commission ruled against the project, essentially on socio-economic rather than technical grounds.
Alternative projects have invested large sums in site investigation and engineering. The current lead project is the Mackenzie Gas Project, led by ExxonMobil and its partners, and there were public hearings in Yellowknife in 2006. Some First Nations aboriginal groups are partners in the project, but others are opposed. The project appears currently to be ‘on the back burner’, in part because the estimated cost suddenly leapt from $US9 billion to $US16 billion.