Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Pipeline

August 22, 1984  Wednesday

Dear Ophelia,
"My room is a little different because Angela moved things around. I was kind of mad. I still am. It's not too bad though. I registered at school yesterday. Here are my classes.
Algebra I 
Biology I
Sales Explorations
Honors English
World History

We start school Monday. My locker is 259. Last night Chevy spent the night. She said that she might quit the ranch because of the pressure. I can't get ahold of Debbie but maybe tonight I can. I don't plan on quitting. Chevy doesn't love horses as much as me. I'm a little mad at her.

Barbara J. just came over with her son David. He's so cute. Well, I gotta go. Bye. Your friend-4-ever, Jennifer. P.S. I haven't seen Cheri, Shannyn and Erin."

Chevy wants to quit becuase of the pressure???? Let's not forget that these young girls aren't being paid!

Angela is Jennifer's step-sister. Jennifer didn't get to spend a lot of time with her. Angela lived in Minnesota with her grandparents. She was in college. Jennifer was in awe of her. Angela was an adult, she seemed to have it all together. Jennifer felt ackward and immature around her.

Jennifer spent the summer at her dad's in Foster City, California. While she was gone, Angela flew up from Minnesota to visit her dad and to work for the oil company in Prudhoe Bay. Good money could be made in Alaska in the summer. From the oil fields to the fishing boats--these seasonal jobs could finance a person's college expenses!

Angela worked (Jennifer thinks this is right) for British Petroleum. Her job had something to do with data collection in the oil fields. Since Prudhoe Bay is so remote (650 miles north of Anchorage), Angela and the rest of the temporary workers lived on site during their shifts.

British Petroleum Headquarters, 1984

In the picture, you'll see that the buildings are raised four feet off the ground. This is to protect the permafrost from melting. Contrary to the image of oil companies, they are careful to preserve the land and the wild animals of the arctic. Of course, it is in their best interests to protect their golden goose.

Workers are not allowed to yell or honk at the animals, to drive fast or to feed them. The wildlife in the area includes arctic fox, grizzly bears, arctic hare, caribou and birds. Other animals that share the area, but are seen less often, are polar bears, musk oxen and red foxes.

Oil spill containment teams, and a fire department, are on hand to clean up any spills even a spill as small as 1 inch of oil. It doesn't hurt that Greenpeace and other organizations are also watching. I think it's easier for the oil companies to just do the right thing. Here is an arial view during winter:

The population of Prudhoe Bay is about 47 people. However, thousands of people are flown in to work. Prudhoe Bay is located on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. It's an extreme environment. The longest night of the year lasts just shy of 55 days. The longest day of the day year lasts just shy of 64 days. Temperatures range from a record low of minus 62 degrees to a record high of 83 degrees. The ocean is only free of ice for six weeks out of the year.

Most of Prudhoe Bay's workers don't even live in Alaska. The oil companies fly them in for one or two weeks at a time. While they are there, they work long days for high pay. They are fed four, all-you-can-eat meals a day (due to the huge amount of calories burned working 10 to 18 hour shifts).

They live most often in dormitories. Alcohol is not permitted for safety reasons and out of respect for the Eskimo villages (most of which are dry). The oil companies employ their own security forces although there is a small police presence also (I think one deputy, maybe two). From September to May, vehicles are left running 24 hours a day. If they are turned off, they won't start again.

It is brutal and harsh, flat and full of mosquitos--but Jennifer remembers Angela enjoying her summers there. She bonded with the other workers and was probably in awe of the completely foreign landscape. I think the best word for for Alaska is just that, AWESOME!

Here is Angela and Jennifer's mom during her visit to Alaska. This photo is not from Prudhoe Bay.

Jennifer did not visit Prudhoe Bay. She remembers a little of what Angela told her. I googled the rest :) However, one thing about Prudhoe Bay is certain. The bears there can't read!

Silly Grizzly!

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline
800.302 miles long.
Spans Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska.
Built between 1974 and 1977.
Constructed during a U.S. Recession.
Workers flocking to Alaska caused an economic boom!
In 1988 the Pipeline carried 2 million barrels of oil a day.
Currently it carries around 700,000 barrels a day.
The Pipeline is surveyed several times a day by air.
Robots called "Pipeline Pigs" repair and clean inside the pipeline.
By 2020 it is expected that the Pipeline will only pump 200,000 barrels a day if new sources of oil are not developed.
Once oil production shuts down, law requires that all evidence that the Pipeline ever existed be removed from Alaska!


  1. Interesting. You did alot of research. We spent some time in Valdez in 2001 and saw the miles of pipeline. Makes me want to go back. It's been 5 years since our last trip there. The state is so beautiful.

  2. Their golden goose has NOTHING to do with the animals in the arctic and everything do to with the OIL in the arctic. They don't spend a single cent if they can avoid it. It's about maximizing profit, not stewardship. Stewardship doesn't make investors happy - double digit returns do. I can promise you they didn't do a single thing they weren't required to do (and then only when the fines were bigger than the costs of mitigating the problem).

  3. Well said, anonymous!I meant that Prudhoe Bay is the golden goose. I agree that they comply with animal and tundra preservation because they are required to. But at least they actually comply. Prudhoe Bay is such a valuable resource that it is handled with kid gloves. I know its only because they want to be able to keep drilling there.

    But I see the irony when all that oil is then used to destroy the very same environment they are trying to protect via global warming. The very permafrost they try to hard not to melt, is melting.

    Hopefully, our earth will be viewed as a resource ultimately more valuable than an oil field by our world leaders!

  4. Hold it .... gotta step in here!
    Jen, this is Joel ... There is only one good thing that has come out of oil companies in AK - $$$

    Prudhoe Bay is a mess !!! Oil companies in AK have, on a number of occasions, been found CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT due to their damage to the environment .... think about what a corporation has to do to be found criminally negligent in today's justice system !!!!

    here's a good read:
    There is about a spill a day at Prudhoe Bay. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields and Trans-Alaska Pipeline have caused an average of 409 spills annually on the North Slope since 1996 (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation spill database 1996-1999). Roughly 40 different substances from acid to waste oil are spilled during routine operations. Over 1.3 million gallons spilled between 1996 and 1999, most commonly diesel and crude oil. Diesel fuel is acutely toxic to plant life.

    A study of diesel spills in Alaska's arctic found that 28 years later there were still substantial hydrocarbons in the soil and little vegetation recovery. The Exxon Valdez studies show petroleum hydrocarbons pose higher risks to fish and wildlife than previously known and that there is long-lasting ecological damage. Prudhoe Bay is a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The oil industry on Alaska's North Slope annual emits approximately 56,427 tons of oxides of nitrogen, which contributes to smog and acid rain. This is more than twice the amount emitted by Washington, DC (EPA National Air Pollutant Emissions Trends1900-1998, 2000). North Slope oil facilities release roughly 24,000-114,000 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas. Substances associated with Prudhoe Bay drilling operations, natural gas facilities, and incinerators were detected in accumulated snow in the area. Despite improvements in drilling waste disposal techniques over the years, problems remain: During horizontal drilling of the Colville River pipeline crossing for Arco's Alpine field, 2.3 million gallons of drilling muds disappeared under the river in 1998. It is unknown where they ended up and if they will ultimately pollute Alaska's largest arctic river. At Endicott, contractors for British Petroleum illegally disposed of hazardous drilling wastes containing benzene and other toxics for at least three years until a whistleblower came forward. Some of the waste reached the surface and workers were exposed to hazardous fumes. In February 2000, BP was ordered to pay $15.5 million in criminal fines and to implement a new environmental management program, and to serve 5-years probation for its failure in reporting the dumping. BP also paid $6.5 million in civil penalties. Its contractor pled guilty to 15 counts of violating the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and paid a $3 million fine. A huge cleanup job remains across the North Slope.

    Do a google search on "Exxon Cordova" and you will find examples of entire towns being virtually destroyed by Oil Company negligence.

    If Alaska were a novel, the chapter on Oil would be a very sad one indeed !!!

  5. Joel, you had me at Hold it!

    Thanks for taking the time to do all that research because I'm guessing you don't have all those facts and figures memorized. I did think they were taking better care of Prudhoe Bay, if just for the reason of preserving it for more drilling. It's sad to hear that they are not taking that good of care of it.
    I got my info from someone who worked there. He was a temp. worker for the oil company. They probably gave him a lot of propaganda about how they are protecting the environment. I'm sure they don't hype their mistakes to their employees.

    I'm not fan of oil companies. I try not to take too strong a stance on this blog because its Jennifer's diaries--not my step stool! But I love for my readers to get in there and get dirty! Thanks again!!


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