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Energy and Environmental Effect of the Pipeline Bust on the US Transportation

The Alaskan pipeline traverses mountain terrain, several hundreds of waterways, fault lines, frost grounds and wildlife migratory routes over a distance of 800miles. Oil exploration hotspots on Alaska’s north form part of a vast oil region spreading out through to Canada’s on the extreme east while, closing into Russia’s Maritime via the Arctic Ocean shelf to the west. The Alaska’s North Slope oil drilling projects spreads over onto the Brooks Range due north (Bird and Houseknecht, 2010). The pipeline stretches from North Slope Alaska heading to Valdez northernmost port.

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According Lavin (2010), a former EPA Investigator discusses that in 2006, Alaska tundra experienced about a quarter million gallons oil spill. Other sources estimated the spill to have been up to 267000 gallons of crude oil, with the pipeline installation back to the late 1970s. Barringer (2006) explains that the spill went unnoticed for almost five days, spreading over two acres on the Prudhoe Bay. He adds that the initial leak could have been through a prick-size opening due to oil pressure in the age and corroded pipeline that connects to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The Wilderness Society (n.d.) states that the impacts of air pollution at Prudhoe Bay extend as far as 200 miles away. The impact compounded further air pollution considering the leak at North Alaska went on for as far as five days disguised under snow that released concentrations of pungent hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. The impacts were less dramatic as it happened in the winter season when temperatures are low but exploration activities were relatively at their active stage (Bird and Houseknecht, 2010).

Smog is associated with poor visibility; Alaska’s North Slope releases up to 700 tons of nitrogen oxides amount key ingredient of smog. Poor visibility due to smog has led to closure of road to avert accidents. These Alaskan pollutants emissions are among the worst relative to other US City (Wilderness Society, n.d.). Vegetation losses; habitat destruction for migratory avifauna; ringed seals, bowhead whales and polar bears as well as interfering with caribou migratory route have been some of the ecological effects attributed to oil spills in Alaska (Roach, 2006 & Wilderness Society, n.d.). Yet much of the oil productions ventures are state operated (Augenblick). The then incumbent US Government preferred cleaning up the oil mess and maintain status quo of exploration activities at Alaska than rely on exports from outside of related products (Roach, 2006).

Trans-boundary transportation of load is relatively far much expensive. Subject to trade conditions and other demands, excessive greenhouse pollution is considered as catalysts in the global warming phenomenal. In trans-boundary, in the case of road transportation, challenges include introduction of importation of custom levies and high fuel consumption due to long distances covered. However, road transport has advantages as it is a relatively investor friendly venture, it has wider reach and mobility. Trans-boundary pipeline installation has complex management and supervision, terrain factor between points of connection, suited for certain fluids alone and requires constant maintenance inspection. However, benefits include high volume conveyance, fewer weather deterrents and it can operate continuously at fast speed.

Maritime industry provides relatively cheaper transport while conveying high volume loads thus, has been popular transportation choice for international crude oil and grain bulk delivery especially through the tramp shipping means. However, landlocked countries have paid a higher price for the service. In addition, shipping needs containers classified depending on load type such that natural gas haul require pressurized containers. Imported oil products mean higher energy expenses for the domestic citizens of the country importing them. The problem compounds further with the global population headed to 8 Billion by 2025 causing demand pressure for available limited sources of the oil products. At the port of entry, the load shipment further inland requires other forms of transport and logistics (road, railway or pipeline) thus, shipping is not an end to itself.

With the oil spill occurrence at the North Slope Alaska, environmentalists are raising more issues oil exploration activities. Some environmental quarters are opposed to flagging off, of oil drilling activities at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Roach, 2006). The oil drilling will further disturb the habitat of local caribou population as well as the inhabiting water birds. Environmental anthropogenic impacts are among the leading causes of local wildlife extermination. The winter oil spill at Alaska in 2006 had mild impacts, but at the onset of summer when ice thaws, such may have adverse impacts. The extent to which pipeline networks are reliable in Alaska has come to the spotlight. Central issue on the spotlight are the reliance on the 1970s installations that has capacity of conveying 15 billion barrels and the revenue generated reinvested on road maintenance, in health services and welfare programs (Augenblick). Actually, claims were that in the lead to the spill, those in management opted to trade off in cost cutting as the anticorrosion efforts increasing spending. However, it is inevitable that pipeline cost of maintenance to sustain the set quality standards for services is high.

Environmental concepts within the legal frameworks are mainstreaming environmental care concerns in industrial operations. With the Polluter-Pays Principle, the negative impacts are squarely placed on the polluting agent to bear the responsibility of his/her actions on the environment, these includes the costs of repairing the damage caused, compensating the afflicted parties claiming locus stand and restoring the environment to its initial state. The local enforcing agent in this case US Environment Protecting Agency branch in Alaska should ensure the implementation of the polluter-pays protocols. Another environment protection structure for compliance to prevent similar incidence in future are the precautionary principle. Under precautionary principle, prevention measures should be in place for any potential environment risks associated with certain operations even in the absence of any scientific proof.

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Recent application of these principles favours internalizing environmental costs rather than remedial actions. These favour operations that have minimal polluting tendencies vis-à-vis those that are prone to pollution. Inline with these is the green initiatives revolution that strives for zero emissions and waste minimization. This is a complete paradigm shift from pollution management to pollution prevention. Thus, incentives meant for operations that consume high fossil fuels translating to massive greenhouse gas emissions are diverged for environmentally friendly projects. These strategic actions will culminate to green technologies replacing polluting ones. Energy sectors are mainstreaming the set ISO 14000 standardization to achieve the certification marks. Transportation operations are under pressure to provide fossil fuel combustion alternatives to cut down carbon dioxide emissions that is fueling global warming. The current carbon sinks capacities are unable to cope with emission rates. Solar, geothermal, wind and their hybrids are gaining popularity as the future energy sources for sustainable development.


Augenblick. (n.d.). Trans-Alaska pipeline system – general facts. Web.

Barringer, F. (2006). Large oil spill in Alaska went undetected for days. Web.

Bird, K. J and Houseknecht, D. W. (2010). Sizing up oil on Alaska’s North slope. American geological Institute. Web.

Lavin. U.S. has been slapping BP’s wrist for years. James Lavin -Blogging the Bust: Attempting to explain collective irrationality. 2009-2010. Web.

Roach, J. (2006). Alaska oil spill fuels concerns over arctic wildlife, future drilling. Web.

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