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800 Mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline is Threatened by Thawing Permafrost

800 Mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline is Threatened by Thawing Permafrost

Alaska Pipeline

According to the sources, potential oil spills and the structural integrity of the pipeline are in danger. It is one of the largest oil pipelines in the world. However, it is now at risk due to thawing permafrost. As it thaws, the permafrost where the 810 feet section of the pipeline is secured has begun to move as it thaws, resulting in the bending of many branches that are holding up the pipeline to twist and bend.

This seems to be the first such incident where the pipeline supports have been severed by “slope creep” due to thawing permafrost, as records show. As a response, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of approximately 100 thermosyphons, tubes that suck the heat out of permafrost to ensure that frozen slope does not move further and avoid more damage to the pipeline’s support structure. 

“The proposed project is integral to the protection of the pipeline,” according to the department’s November 2020 analysis.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Carl Weimer, a special projects adviser for Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington. “The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”

Over the past few decades, temperatures of permafrost have warmed up quite significantly and grew up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Permafrost is found beneath over 80% of Alaska; it is not but the ground remained completely frozen for around 2 years straight. 

“The purpose of this project is to protect the integrity of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (mainline) from permafrost degradation,” according to the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

Egan said that “permafrost changes were anticipated during the original design” of the 800-mile pipeline, which opened in 1977 and runs from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez on Prince William Sound in the south. Although she did not comment on the extent of the damage or the current state of permafrost thawing. 

The construction to install thermosyphons has already started and is expected to take 3 months, and it will also include a three-foot layer of insulating wood chips atop the permafrost.


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