Prudhoe Bay — Or Bust!

The proposed Alaskan oil pipeline and its probable effects on the teeming life of the frozen tundra are the subjects of this segment.

Environmental Impact of the Pipeline:
This episode didn’t deal with existing impacts but speculative ones–but the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS) was one of the first major infrastructure projects that was only approved with extensive environmental impact statements.

This 2007 paper examines the results of the early environmental impact statements and how they compare to the historical data of the pipeline’s effects on different animal populations. Its conclusion? That the environmental impact of the pipeline was, if not minimal, at least far diminished compared to any other form of oil transport that could have been implemented in the region.

Accidents and Cover-ups

What they didn’t predict in 1970: the oil-transport system’s weak link, the transition between the port and the tankers. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 accounts for 75% of all the oil spilled in the pipeline’s lifespan. Subsequently, new regulations were required, like double hulls for any tanker visiting Prince William Sound. 20 years after that accident, it’s estimated that the environment has not recovered, and it may take another 10 years.

There was another major spill in 1994 (and subsequent cover-up) that was attributed to illegal activity on the part of two of the pipeline’s associated companies.

When the Pipeline’s right-of-way grant was renewed in 2004, another impact statement was created in 2002.

This paper examines the results of the early environmental impact statements and how they compare to the historical data of the pipeline’s effects on different animal populations.

For more on the history of the TAPS:
American Experience has an excellent documentary, though its focus is strongly on the impact of TAPS on the people of Alaska, though they address the environmental concerns as well.