HISTORIC FEATS: America’s Longest Pipeline

The modern world didn’t just happen. It was built. Built by men and women who understood the value of hard work and overcoming the impossible to accomplish Historic Feats. Those are our kind of people. To celebrate them and their accomplishments, OXX is taking a closer look at some of the greatest feats of human ingenuity that America has ever seen. 

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) was constructed from April 1974 to June of 1977 after crude oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope. Accessing an oil supply of this magnitude was a challenge of its own, but taking on the uncharted terrain of Alaska would be another task completely. At its peak, the project required 28,000 workers to labor on the hundreds of miles of pipeline. The men and women working on the TAPS project would put in 60 to 80 hour work weeks to complete the largest privately funded project in U.S. history that would end up costing some $8 billion once completed.

To the hard working folks who made TAPS possible, we raise our mugs to you, as we look at the 3 things you probably didn’t know the Trans-Alaska Pipeline project.

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Welding Wonders / American Welding Society

The pipeline is long. 

When you look at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline on a map, it doesn’t look that impressive. Sure, you can tell that its long, but it might be hard to imagine the enormity of the project by looking at the image on Google. So here’s some perspective for you: the pipeline is 800 miles long. That’s like driving from New York City to Louisville, Kentucky. As the pipe ducks and weaves through the woods of Alaska, it crosses three mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams.

 

 

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Welding Wonders / American Welding Society

The pipeline project triggered a modern day gold rush. 

Remember that we’re talking about Alaska here. That means cold, rugged, and dangerous wilderness everywhere. But when the TAPS project took off, the biggest concern wasn’t the wilderness, but the lack of infrastructure within of the nation’s largest state. Working on the TAPS project came with a lot of perks, including great pay, generous benefits, and promising working conditions. (One worker even recalls eating steak dinners every night when the project first began). Alaska’s small towns were doubling in population practically overnight as unionized construction workers, teachers, secretaries, and immigrants came with gold-rush-like eagerness to the bush. Once there, the project teams settled in work camps that ranged in size from 250 to 3,500 people. Over the course of construction, some 70,000 men and women worked on the project.

 

 

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Federal Bureau of Investigation

The pipeline made us question if the Beverly Hillbillies are real.

Okay, so that might be a little much, but there is a possibility, especially after a Mr. Daniel Lewis shot a hole into the pipeline and struck crude oil. Back in 2001, Lewis and his brother were troping through the woods when Lewis’ high-powered rifle sent a bullet right through the steel and high-density insulation of the pipe. And just like that, SWOOSH. Oil. Everywhere. Retired FBI Agent Bruce Milne recalls, “if you would have put your hand in front of the leak, the pressure would have taken it off.” Before engineers could come in and stop the leak, the pipe spewed out 285,000 gallons of crude oil. The mess took months to clean up and cost $13 million.

 

Today the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is still pumping some 500,000 barrels of oil a day. Someday (in what we hope is the distant future) when the oil field is all dried up, another bout of hard working ladies and gents will need to flock to Alaska to remove the pipeline. If we’re still blogging, you can be sure we’ll do a write-up of that amazing feat of deconstruction. In the meantime, we’ll keep covering some of the amazing feats of the American workingman.