Logo bar of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok and Ketchikan
The oil pipeline sits up on stilts as weaves its way across the Alaskan landscape with mountains in the background.
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The Trans-Alaska Pipeline
The pipeline and snow covered ground around the Glen Allen area

In 1968, the largest oil strike in U.S. was discovered underneath Prudhoe Bay. Construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline began in 1975, and the first oil left Prudhoe Bay on June 20, 1977. The pipeline runs 789 miles from Prudhoe Bay in the north to the port of Valdez in the south. It carries an average 1.8 million barrels of oils a day. Valdez is the northern most ice-free harbor in the U.S. When the oil reaches the marine terminal at Valdez it is transferred to waiting oil tankers.

The pipeline was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company which was made up of a group of seven oil companies. In areas where there was stable rock and soil, the pipeline was buried. In the unstable areas of permafrost, the pipeline remains above ground. It is insulated and supported by 78,000 supports, located 60 feet apart. The pipeline is built in a flexible zigzag pattern. There are more than 800 river and stream crossings, and the pipeline passes through three mountain rangers. It has been called one of man's greatest engineering feats. 

For more information visit: 

The Trans Alaska Pipeline System 

BLM Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Alaska Kids Corner: The trans-Alaska pipeline

map of pipeline.

In late March, 1989, an oil tanker spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound. This has been considered one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters in history. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history until the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. While the Deepwater spill was horrific, due to Prince William Sound's remote geography that is accessible only by air and water, government and industry was much slower than the Gulf spill, consequently causing more damage. 

The Sound is a habitat for world-class salmon fishing, sea otters, seals and all kind of seabirds. These were all affected by the oil spill. The oil came from top of the pipeline in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and when spilled, spread out over 1,300 (2,100 km) of coastline and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean.

A picture of the trans-Atlantic pipeline through rolling tundra hills.
The trans-Alaska pipeline travels through a variety of landscape types.

Today, oil still remains. It is found in marine life that is consumed by other animals, as well as in the beaches of the Sound. Though there were overwhelming tragedies, some small measures of good have come from this spill: federal agencies such the National Park Service has made their response times quicker and most tanker hulls are doubled hulled so that if they do hit something, the hull will not rupture completely.

Classic Video: Pipeline!

The story of the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline

Note: This Embedded video resides on the official Alaska National Parks YouTube channel

>>Oil, hot crude, flows from the richest wells on the frozen arctic shore.

>>So much effort at such great cost to be ready to carry a 12 million barrel daily capacity


>>It took $8 billion, 20,000 workers, 12-hour days, and 7-day weeks, to finish it in three years, inside the deadline.

>>First, they built the road, 360 miles long, supplying 30 construction camps, using extra gravel to insulate the permafrost.

>>Then they needed supports to raise up the pipeline to prevent it from heating up the ground.


>>Half of the pipeline rests on 78,000 supports, 60 feet apart.

>>It’s a new design for constructing to be part of the land so caribou can march under it, 

and earthquakes can rock and sway it.

>>Then the pipe; 70,000 sections joined and laid, then buries or raised, crossing 3 mountain ranges, 800 riverbeds, tundra, forests, and lakes, all the way from the arctic to the pacific.

>>And now, from the richest oil field in America, 35,000 gallons of oil can flow every minute through a 48-inch pipe stretched 800 miles, the length of Alaska, to the ice-free port of Valdez.

>>In April, 1974, it began with the haul road, and on August 1, 1977, this film documented the first tanker leaving for the south, full of oil.

A bald eagle in flight Did You Know?
The largest concentration of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in North America occurs during the fall and winter along the Chilkat River, in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where up to 3,000 eagles congregate to feed on salmon.