The Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The pipeline and snow covered ground around the Glen Allen area
A photo of the pipeline in Glen Allen with snow covered ground

The Timeline of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

  • 1968 — The largest oil strike in the U.S. was discovered underneath Prudhoe Bay.
  • 1975 — Construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline began 
  • June 20, 1977 — The first oil left Prudhoe Bay through the 789 mile pipeline in route to Valdez
  • March 1989 — An oil tanker spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound. 
  • Today — Oil still remains in Prince William Sound. Federal agencies have made their response times quicker and most tanker hulls are double hulled so that if they do hit something, the hull will not rupture completely. You can learn more about the pipeline today from the Bureau of Land Management Branch of Pipeline Monitoring


map of pipeline
Map of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Facts about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

  • The pipeline carries an average of 1.8 million barrels of oil a day.
  • It was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company; a group made up of seven oil companies
  • The pipeline in buried in some areas except where there is permafrost, then the pipeline is above ground.
  • The pipeline was built in a zigzag pattern so that it becomes flexible if needed, like during an earthquake.
  • There are more than 800 river and stream crossings and three mountain ranges that the pipeline crosses.
Clean up of Valdez in 1989 after the oil spill
Clean up of Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989

Facts about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Prince William Sound

  • The Exxon-Valdez oil spill is the second largest oil-spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico being the largest.
  • Since the area that experienced the most damage is not easily accessible, the clean up time was much longer. Which, consequently, created longer lasting damage to the area.
  • The oil spilled out over 1300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean.
  • The animals that call Prince William Sound home were all affected by this spill.

Classic Video: Pipeline!

The story of the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline

Note: This Embedded video resides on the official Alaska National Parks YouTube channel


>>Oil, hot crude, flows from the richest wells on the frozen arctic shore.

>>So much effort at such great cost to be ready to carry a 12 million barrel daily capacity

>>It took $8 billion, 20,000 workers, 12-hour days, and 7-day weeks, to finish it in three years, inside the deadline.

>>First, they built the road, 360 miles long, supplying 30 construction camps, using extra gravel to insulate the permafrost.

>>Then they needed supports to raise up the pipeline to prevent it from heating up the ground.

>>Half of the pipeline rests on 78,000 supports, 60 feet apart.

>>It’s a new design for constructing to be part of the land so caribou can march under it, 

and earthquakes can rock and sway it.

>>Then the pipe; 70,000 sections joined and laid, then buries or raised, crossing 3 mountain ranges, 800 riverbeds, tundra, forests, and lakes, all the way from the arctic to the pacific.

>>And now, from the richest oil field in America, 35,000 gallons of oil can flow every minute through a 48-inch pipe stretched 800 miles, the length of Alaska, to the ice-free port of Valdez.

>>In April, 1974, it began with the haul road, and on August 1, 1977, this film documented the first tanker leaving for the south, full of oil.