Cedar Rapids Gazette (Newspaper) - May 26, 1974, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
JOA I bf Cedar Rapids (.amtr Sun., May 26, 1974
Problems Rival Pyramids For Alaskan Oil Pipeline
£DtTOKS NO TE — What hath co ogress wrought? The Alaskan pipeline, freed from its legal snarls by federal action, is moving again. Pipe won t be laid until next year. A permanent road comes first. But the long-awaited nearly $4 billion pipeline, authori zed by congress last November, is finally to be built through spec tacular Alaska, a land that may never be the same
By John Barbour
ABOVE THE FROZEN YUKON RIVER, Alaska (AP) — The trouble with summer up here is that it melts the road.
But it also brings some 20 hours of daylight. Men can work a double shift and shed their parkas and thermal unde rwear.
Daylight and cold. The thaw and the delicate tundra. Those are crucial elements to the long-delayed Alaskan oil pipeline, a 789-mile plumber’s delight, oilman's frustration, ecologist’s despair, that will wind through landscape as desolate and spectacular as the moon and almost as remote.
Pipeline men figure it a nominally difficult task — but to the layman's eye it seems to rival the pyramids and dwarf the Aswan dam. The pipe is four feet in diameter and will reach from the oil fields of Prudhoe bay on the Arctic ocean to Valdez (pronounced Yal-dtes), an ice-free harbor on Prince William sound, a gateway to West ( oast ports in “the lower 48.”
In between, the route spans the bitter ice-bound plains from Prudhoe southward, climbing through the craggy 8.000-foot ramparts of the Brooks range, snaking through a 4,800-foot pass over the continental divide, south still across the Arctic Circle, over moose tracks and caribou trails between mountains ladled with melting marshmallow snow, down to the frozen Yukon river where men have forced the waters to create a bridge of ice. From thence still south past Fairbanks, a tiny town, an Alaskan metropolis, born in a gold rush, braced for an oil rush, over miles of tundra to Isabel pass, 3,500 feet high through the Alaska range, into the Chugach mountains, down, down, down through the
granite splendor of Keystone Canyon to Valdez, population 1,200 before it all began, 3,000 plus before it ends.
Distance is magnified by the desolate and remote terrain. Shorter in air miles than the route from New York to
Chicago, the pipeline trail begins at a town once destroyed by a tidal wave and
(‘lids in a northern wilderness dotted bv drilling rigs where the smallest necessity must be brought in from the outside.
Co st, Stakes Both High
Aviation gasoline, which costs 53 cents a gallon in Anchorage, costs $2.13 a gallon at Deadhorse near isolated Prudhoe. It costs the oil companies $75 a day to support a man at Prudhoe; meals alone are $25 a day. They pay it willingly. The stakes are high.
When the pipe opens in 1977, it will take ll million barrels of oil to fill it before one drop comes out the southern end. At l>eak. it will deliver two million barrels of crude a day, enough to fill a daily fleet of bt),OOO tanker trucks, or a train more than 11,400 tank cars long.
Frank A. Therrell, an oil company engineer who has been on the pipeline since it was deemed feasible in 1908, explains its uniqueness
* What strikes me is the remoteness. It's like going back to the very early days of pipelining when they needed large crews, almost like marshaling a small army. You had your tent camps and your cooks and your mules We have equipment now, but we still have to contend with the remoteness.
“There's no town on that pipeline where — if you were to move in with a thousand men — you could find beds lur them. So you have to go in and essentially build new little cities for them. ”
And that’s what they’ve done up and down the pipeline route The camps, ghost towns for more than three years, now treed from legal snarls are bustling again
Flying into Prudhoe in early
spring, the eye is devastated by the bleak, endless, snowy plain. The airplane radio blurts out the weather report: clear, temperature 32 degrees below, combining with a 14-knot breeze to yield a windchill factor of 64 degrees below zero, a mild day for Prudhoe bay.
In the winter the wind-chill factor drops to 115 degrees below, and for nearly two months the sun never rises above the horizon. But by nnd-April there is enough sunlight for 24-hour outdoor operations, with temperatures in the 70s It lasts only four months before the sun recedes again.
Prudhoe covers a relatively small area, barely 2(M) square miles. Below are IO billion barrels of oil and 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. There is the promise of even more.
The some 65 wells already drilled are capped and the only oil taken from the field is used to refine 1.200 barrels of heating oil a day to provide power and heat to run what is essentially a small city.
average about 140 degrees. Originally the plan was to bury 90 percent of the pipeline in a trench along the trail. That was in many areas a threat to the permafrost. It would likely have been a threat to the pipeline, too.
That kind of defiance of nature could ruin the land. The modified plan now provides that half of the line will be elevated — on pipe-like stilts — to protect the permafrost. Buried sections will be laid only when soil conditions can stand the thaw
It raises the cost of the line. The pipeline company had to buy I,(MKI miles of 18-inch pipe for the elevating stilts.
There will be no pipe laid until 1975. First, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., owned by seven oil firms, must build a year-round road. That begins this summer
Delayed 3V2 Years
But this heart of the oil bonanza some 1,300 miles from the North Pole is also the heart of the frustration and the problems which have beset the Alaskan oil find from the beginning Buildings are erected on pilings or gravel beds to protect the tundra.
In winter, the tundra is essentially a frozen swamp. Beautiful in a sense, says oilman Therrell, “with the shapes and the forms and the shadows’ in the deep and drifting snow
But after the ice and >now have gone, it looks from the air like a green and flowered plain “But you get down on it and you get your feet wet. Its a swamp really, and it’s better about the first of September when it's getting cool and the mosquitoes are gone.”
Below the winter snow are caribou moss and reindeer lichen, and the mishmash of plants that make up the tundra. “It s that very thick, plush vegetative mat that helps act as an insulator.” explains Therrell “And that’s why the permafrost there is very close* to the surface — only eighteen inches to a foot down in the summertime ”
The tundra protects the permafrost, and the permafrost has been the focus of the oil pipeline problem It is that always frozen ground below the Arctic surface. Sometimes gravel, sometimes silt, sometimes rock The rock offers no problem but the gravel and silt, bound together by ice, are a problem when they thaw
The ground becomes difficult to control. It sinks, slides, flows in obedience to gravity.
The oil gushing out at Prudhoe will be 170 degrees .hot In the pipeline it will
Controversy and court battles over permafrost damage from buried pipe and possible interference with caribou and wildlife migration from elevated pipe have delayed the line for 34 years. More than $300 million worth of camps and equipment have lain idle along the route. Some $100 million worth of pipe has weathered and rusted When the project was authorized by congress last November, the pipeline company mobilized again. One of the first chores was to replace all the tires on the thousands of vehicles waiting along the trail The pipeline route is roughly 400 feet w ide by 789 miles long. It measures at most 14 square miles in a 586,IMM) square mile state. At the beginning, and even now, oilmen decried the delay over what they considered such a pittance of land Today, even the men who
will police the pipeline grant that the delay may have been overlong.
Andrew Rollins, the federal overseer, says, “Yeah, I’ll agree to that . . . Really the penalty in time came when it got into the courts. A year and a half — maybe two years delay for re-engineering, yes. That was a delay that should have been. Subsequent delays have been because of court actions.”
(’huck Champion, the overseer for the state, says the change in the original plan was essential, burying only 50 percent of the pipe instead of 90 percent. “That’s an additional 40 percent that would have been — if not a horrendous maintenance problem, then an ecological disaster. There’s another aspect of this. The cost of the line has increased immeasurably in the last three years. But we’ve also had an enormous increase in the wellhead price of crude. I wonder if the oil companies haven’t made money in terms of the in-place value of recoverable reserves."
Both Rollins and Champion have the power under federal regulations to shut down pipeline construction — or eventually the flow of oil. Both are adamant that the company will abide by approved safeguards.
Shutdown. Rollins and Champion have a powerful weapon. With a limited construction year, time is money. The oilmen must lay pipe while the sun shines. Says Champion:
“If you divide the total estimated cost of this project by the number of days and hours during which construction is going to take place, it’s an expenditure of about SKM),IMM) an hour, which gives you some idea of the magnitude of this project.
“And that’s why I said the
DIETRICH Camp lies in a valley cutting through the Brooks mountains on the route of the Alaskan pipeline, about a quarter of the way down its 789 mile length from Prudhoe. This aerial view, facing east, shows equipment, and housing for the men who will build the pipeline — there are about 70 now, eventually over 900 men will live and work here. The pipeline will run north-south along the valley, across the area seen in the background.
last step is going to bt* a shutdown in the pipeline. That means all of our differences are irreconcilable.”
Rollins agrees. The pipeline company can appeal a shutdown order, but the process takes time and can be expensive. “That’s why it’s such a potent weapon.”
The frustration of the last 34 years is evident even in the field camps. At the Dietrich camp, south of the continental divide, supervisor Bob Swarthout says, “I never did
think they wouldn’t build it. Everyone who has been around the oil game knew there was a shortage, and they weren’t going to let that oil lay out there.”
Swarthout, 52, has been in construction since he joined the Alcan highway project in 1941.
“I’ve built roads all over Alaska, and I can’t set* where any of them did any harm to the environment, and some of them even improved it.”
Pay is high, even Ur road-
MSM BS mmMZmmvimm
PIPES waiting to be used in the Alaskan pipeline are stacked, crusted with snow and half buried in drifts, at Prudhoe bay. There are pipes in this stockpile for 168 miles of the four-foot-diameter pipeline, which will have a total length of 789 miles. The rest of the pipes to be used are ready and waiting in two other stockpiles, in Fairbanks and Valdez.
Cedar Rapids School
Of Men’s Hair Styling proudly announces that
has won 2nd Place iii the student competition for Men s Hair Styling at tin* A M B B A. State Barber Convention iii Waterloo, May 19, 1974 C.K School of Men’s Hair Styling 426 2nd Ave ST
SUNDAY I to 5 p.m.
WE WILL BE CLOSED
MEMORIAL DAY MAY 27
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work. A common laborer makes about $86# for a seven-day, 71-hour week. He takes time off when he wants it. Salaried men are usually on eight weeks, off two.
While Swarthout talks in the camp cafeteria, the cook throws thick sirloin steaks on the grill, and the 70 men begin to line up for the evening meal — all they can eat. Eventually over 9tM) men will live and work here, part of the 14,IKM) who will bi* hired, mostly in Alaska, to build road and pipeline.
A dozen companies have tried to make a fast buck over the prospect of pipeline jobs. 'The truth is that jobs are just not available.
Some 200-300 families have come to Alaska, lured by promises of work. Frequently they don’t have the money to go home again.
Success, so long sought, has its drawbacks, and many Alaskans worry about the pipeline project and the opening up of the state might damage the fabric of Alaskan life.
At tiny Valdez, at the foot of the pipeline where a tidal wave from the 1964 earthquake erased the original town, there are mixed emotions — but on balance, optimism.
Land sold at a nickel a square foot three years ago. Today the price is a dollar.
The oil terminal will be tennis the bay from the new town of Valdez, and 4<M) miles of pipe are already stacked partly on the site of the old town. The pipeline people aren’t here yet, but they are on their way, along with some of the prefab homes that will house them.
Probably the most graphic way to explain what will happen to Valdez is the telephone book. Now 26 pages, it will expand to 80
What people hope will not change is the vivid landscape of Prince William sound, the deep clear waters, the arching green-toothed glaciers, the endless miles of Alaskan pine
In miniature, Valdez is the whole problem of Alaska and its pipeline — the wondrous contentment of a people who have come to a rugged and beautiful land to harbor their own freedoms, the sudden influx of strangers and the need to lock the front door, the awakened hunger of entrepreneurs, the new road that will open the-frozen north, the gnawing feeling that this last great wilderness will never be the same.
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