Alaska editorial: Marking 30 years of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The trans-Alaska pipeline reaches a milestone later this month when the calendar reads June 20, the date 30 years ago on which a controller at Prudhoe Bay pushed a button to allow the first oil to flow into the pipeline for the 800-mile journey south to the port of Valdez.

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An account of that day's events, including the 65-minute delay in the startup, and of activities in the days leading up to the line's operation included some deserved boasting from William Darch, president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. at the time. "The major point is that we have been able to complete on time and on schedule a project of this magnitude." He noted that such a feat was "almost unique" in the construction and pipeline industries.

It took 38 months and $8 billion to accomplish.

The Daily News-Miner editorial published on June 20, 1977, had this to say about the flowing of the first oil:

"Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and its contractors will surely go down in history as one of the strangest forces with which Alaskans have learned to live.

"As the first oil enters the trans-Alaska pipeline, we stand at the point of reaping benefits which can make Alaska the showplace of modern development. We can nurture our wealth to give Alaska a stable economy and keep the quality of life we have enjoyed in the past, or we can squander it in ways which may someday make 'Alaska' a word synonymous with foolishness and greed."

Today, Alaska has about $39 billion in the bank because Alaskans did have the foresight to save.

Alaskans, by constitutional amendment, had set up the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. a year earlier to hold some of the oil revenue, and the Legislature in 1980 created the Permanent Fund dividend to distribute some of that oil wealth to the citizenry.

From the vantage of 2007, with several billion dollars of oil revenue having been shipped into the state treasury, it will be difficult for a sizable number of Alaskans to imagine life in the 49th state prior to the pipeline.

Alaska is a different place today, in many respects, because of the pipeline.

Just how much longer the line will be in use, however, is a question that comes up more often now as North Slope production rates continue their long slide.

The coming 30th anniversary of the pipeline's first oil shipment is an opportunity for Alaskans to focus on the prospects for the next 30 years.

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