Gas is flared off at Prudhoe Bay

Gas is flared off at Prudhoe Bay

Alaska sits in judgment of B.C.

Home of North America's largest oilfield and the source of daily crude tankers down the B.C. coast, Alaska has mining too

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett spent much of last week in Alaska, trying to assure local fishermen and environmentalists that B.C.’s mine approval process is “basically the same” as Alaska’s.

Bennett visited an abandoned mine in northwest B.C. that continues to leak acid and metal pollution into the Taku River, vowing to supervise cleanup by a new operator. He noted that one of B.C.’s proposed new mines includes a 23-km pipe system to move ore out of the shared watershed for processing.

This is typical of the discourse between B.C. and our American cousins. Only our industry is questioned.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the latest mine spill disaster was blamed on a mistake by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in Alaska as in the rest of the U.S., new metal mines such as the giant Pebble project depend on the same engineering and testing as ours.

Here in Victoria, the Fantasy Island dialogue about oil continued, with Green Party leader Elizabeth May calling a news conference to announce she is (brace yourself) opposed to pipelines and tankers on the B.C. coast. She stood at Clover Point, where daily Alaska crude tankers sail past, many on their way to vast refinery complexes just out of sight at Anacortes and Cherry Point in Washington. A good portion of B.C.’s gasoline comes from there.

Without a drunk-captain incident since 1989, these tankers load up at the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Let’s take a closer look.

For 47 years, the pipeline has pumped huge volumes of oil across Alaska from the charming northern outpost of Deadhorse to Valdez in the south, just east of Anchorage where cruise ships dock.

In his new book, Rust: The Longest War, science writer Jonathan Waldman calls it “the biggest, baddest oil pipeline in the world.

“From Prudhoe Bay to Prince William Sound, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System stretches 800 miles, which leaves engineer Bhaskar Neogi accountable for one of the heaviest metal things in the Western Hemisphere, through which the vast majority of Alaska’s economy flows,” Waldman writes. “Daily, the four-foot steel tube spits out $50 million of oil.”

It was once the largest private infrastructure in the U.S. Today it’s the most regulated pipeline in the world, with planes flying infrared sensors to detect leaks of warm oil and “line walkers” looking for soft spots in the permafrost.

And this isn’t low-fat, shade-grown oil for Seattle fuel-sippers. It struggles to flow, with a black asphalt bottom and thick wax that has to be scraped out of the pipeline by the ton with giant “pigs” that clean and monitor walls for corrosion.

The five Prudhoe Bay oilfields have been declining in production for 20 years, to the point where the Trans-Alaska pipeline now carries about a quarter of its design capacity. It’s expected to run out around 2040, but for now Valdez still loads more than a tanker a day.

Waldman writes that when North America’s largest oilfield was discovered in 1968, companies first considered extending the Alaska Railroad up to Deadhorse. But they would have needed 63 trains a day of 100 cars each. Trucks, cargo planes and even nuclear-powered submarines running under the Arctic ice were briefly considered.

Since we had a bit of hand-wringing last week about a small earthquake near Fort Nelson that may or may not have been triggered by hydraulic fracturing, it’s worth noting that Trans-Alaska oil also causes noticeable tremors as it rushes down the Chugach Mountains to a sudden stop at Valdez. But those are American earthquakes, so no story there.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman who was killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Nanaimo artist Melissa Anderson has paintings on display at White Rabbit Coffee Co. for the next month. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo painter showcases coastal Island views in first exhibit in two years

Melissa Anderson presents ‘Seascapes’ oil painting exhibit at White Rabbit Coffee Co.

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read