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

Rural dividend grants awarded in Kootenay West

Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy made the grant announcements in Trail on Thursday

West Kootenay gleaner’s group gets big funding boost

CBT grant allows project to save more local produce from compost bin

Fruitvale man identified in fatal zipline accident in Thailand

Spencer Donaldson, 25, was from Fruitvale, B.C., the city’s mayor has confirmed

RDCK passes climate change ‘call to arms’

Director says the statement will help guide policy

Facing high regulatory barriers, Kootenay cannabis producers gather for support

Symposium on barriers facing legalization attended by hundreds

It was no Kentucky Derby: B.C. girls host foot-long snail race

Two Grade 3 students in White Rock put four snails to the test in a hotly-contested street race

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

B.C. RCMP arrest foreign national in connection to airport thefts

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Police probe eight fires set at B.C. elementary school

Nanaimo RCMP say fires appear to have been set intentionally

Undercover cops don’t need warrant to email, text suspected child lurers: court

High court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills of Newfoundland

Whitecaps fans stage walkout over club’s response to allegations against B.C. coach

Soccer coach has been suspended by Coastal FC since February

Most Read