This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.
Thirty years ago, about 100 miles south of the Arctic Ocean, a welder fused a section of 48-inch pipe with molten metal. When he snuffed his torch, the trans-Alaska pipeline was an 800-mile tube of steel. On June 20, 1977, oil began flowing from the bowels of the earth at Prudhoe Bay, through Pump Station 1, and into the trans-Alaska pipeline.
At the time, an editorial in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner heralded the pipeline as the world’s largest private construction project. Others had grander analogies, comparing the pipeline to the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China.
More than 28,000 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company workers and contractors worked on the pipeline at the peak of activity in 1975, and 31 people died in activities related to pipeline construction, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
The pipeline almost wasn’t built.