Fears sparked over oil road

North Slope officials worried travelers could be stranded

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2006

BARROW - Deadhorse and Barrow will be linked for the first time this winter thanks to a 240-mile snow-packed road being constructed by ConocoPhillips.

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The road is made for low-pressure vehicles, not trucks or other vehicles, and oil industry officials will try to discourage people from using the road.

However, North Slope officials are worried those warnings won't be heeded and that the long drive across the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska could be dangerous.

Travel safety worries were the biggest concern to come out of a NPRA Subsistence Advisory Panel public meeting at the Inupiat Heritage Center earlier this month.

ConocoPhillips representative Bruce St. Pierre said they had numerous subsistence hunters who use the roads surrounding the Alpine oil field near Nuiqsut.

Oil industry officials try to discourage people from using their roads, but like Lon Kelly, manager of the BLMs arctic field office said, "we're turning a blind eye."

North Slope officials are worried about safety for those who won't heed warnings and drive from the end of the Dalton Highway to Barrow. This particular road will run from Kuparuk to an exploratory area called Intrepid.

Because Barrow is only reachable by aircraft in the winter and barge in the summer, shipping vehicles is very costly. The road would allow people living in Barrow to cut about $5,000 off of the cost of transporting a vehicle to the city.

Fears were raised that motorists using the road could be stranded or in trouble in horrible winter conditions without much of a chance of help on the way.

The Rolligons that are allowed on the road, because of the low impact they have on the frozen tundra, travel between 6 to 8 mph. That means their presence could be pretty sparse on the road.

"Were concerned about risks, were concerned about tundra damage," St. Pierre said.

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