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The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Will Dry Up Without New Oil

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Will Dry Up Without New Oil thumbnail

Anchorage, Alaska

For nearly four decades, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System has served as Alaska’s economic artery while providing the rest of the U.S. with a reliable supply of domestic oil from Alaska’s North Slope. Even with lower oil prices and the shale revolution increasing domestic production, TAPS, as we Alaskans call it, remains a key component of the national energy infrastructure. But the pipeline needs more Arctic oil to sustain its contributions to Alaska’s economy and America’s energy security.

As president of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which was formed in 1970 to build and operate TAPS, I’ve seen firsthand how essential the pipeline is to Alaska’s economy. One-third of all jobs in the state are tied to the oil and gas industry, and oil companies are, by far, the largest contributors to state revenues.

Even more important are the people who make the industry work. Thousands of Alaskans across the state—engineers and surveyors, pipeline technicians, welders and laborers, accountants and safety and environmental professionals—get up every day to ensure that Alaska’s oil and gas industry operates safely and responsibly, and continues to serve as the lifeblood of the Alaska economy, and a reliable energy source for America.

The pending five-year offshore leasing program under review by the Obama administration is critical to the continued operation of TAPS. The program stipulates the size, timing and location of possible leasing activity that the Interior secretary determines best meets the energy needs of the nation from 2017-22.

As the administration considers the public comments submitted on the draft plan, it is crucial to consider what is at stake. The draft 2017-22 leasing program includes three proposed sales in Alaska: one each in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas and one in Cook Inlet. The Arctic offshore resource potential is enormous. The Interior Department estimates that Alaska’s Arctic offshore basins hold more than 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—approximately one-third of the nation’s oil and gas reserves. Those resources could ensure a steady future supply of oil for TAPS.

It is vital that the sales remain in the final program. TAPS has moved more than 17 billion barrels of North Slope oil since it began operations in 1977, but it now runs at a quarter of its maximum capacity due to the natural decline in mature North Slope basins. At its peak, more than two million barrels flowed down TAPS every day. Today, the daily average is closer to 530,000 barrels. Years of declining production make TAPS operations increasingly difficult. Recent investments by producers have delivered an uptick in production, but the long-term health of TAPS requires larger quantities of new production.

The good news is the Arctic possesses abundant onshore, nearshore and offshore oil resources, and Alaskans support finding and using those resources. A 2014 poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 73% of Alaskans support developing the Arctic offshore for oil and gas.

Without new production, TAPS must continue operations in conditions it wasn’t originally designed to handle. Lower pipeline throughput means oil moves more slowly, cooling over time and creating challenges with wax, water and ice buildup. Although Alaskans continue to devise safe and innovative solutions to move the oil from matured fields every day, the best long-term solution lies in the billions of barrels of oil that are nearby and can be responsibly produced.

Alaska’s Arctic offshore oil basins offer an opportunity to maintain a stable and safely produced domestic energy supply. Why develop these oil and gas reserves and not others? The hydrocarbon resource is known and enormous. Reliable world-class infrastructure is already in place, and its development is supported by the great majority of local residents.

Given the long lead times required to safely develop Arctic offshore resources and the urgent need for new investment in the region, the Obama administration should include all three Alaska lease sales in the coming five-year program. Americans will need to rely on fossil fuels for much of their energy needs for decades to come. It would be shortsighted to limit voluntarily the options for strengthening U.S. energy security.

Mr. Barrett, a retired U.S. Coast Guard vice admiral and former deputy secretary of the Transportation Department, is president of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.


33 Comments on "The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Will Dry Up Without New Oil"

  1. penury on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 10:37 am 

    or we could do the earth a favor and just let the sucker close.

  2. dave thompson on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 10:52 am 

    So if all this oil is so abundant and ready to be tapped whats the big deal? Alaska should be taking advantage. OH, I get it, the oil is expensive and hard to get. All the good stuff has been tapped. Now what?

  3. jjhman on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 11:43 am 

    It’s easy to see the desperation. Thousands of jobs, free money for the inhabitants in the form of royalty checks, energy for cars and heating homes. All of this making life today easy and comfortable. The damage done by the drilling and burning seems so iffy and tomorrow. Until it isn’t.

  4. bug on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 12:02 pm 

    “As president of the Alyeska pipeline co.
    I’ve seen blah, blah, blah”

    He needs the entire thing to go on for the forseeable future so he has a job.
    Got house payments, SUV payments, boat, credit card payments, home equity, private school and college for kiddies,
    If this stops, he is like the same as the guys in the rust belt, SOL.

  5. shortonoil on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 12:46 pm 

    By, our calculations, the cost of bringing the average new barrel on online is now $71/ barrel. With prices presently close to $40, there is not much chance of a renaissance for Alaska, or any other major field. Depletion will be taking its toll.

  6. Boat on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 2:18 pm 


    The 501,000 barrels produced daily on the North Slope in fiscal year 2015 are expected to rise to 520,000 barrels this fiscal year, the forecast estimates. Production is expected to finish this fiscal year “strong,” averaging about 533,000 barrels of oil daily in April, May and June

  7. eugene on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 2:22 pm 

    I was in Alaska-1982-and the euphoria was insane. Talk of moving Anchorage across the inlet in a totally enclosed, climate controlled city. Wealth beyond our ability to spend it was in the air. Anybody with their feet on the ground, a rarity, knew things were crazy. Instead of building an economy, Alaskans chose to stick money in the Permanent Fund from which the dividends wound up being an annual party spending binge. Consequence was a state economy dependent on oil and whatever Federal money could be swiped.

    I like the move from proven reserves to estimates (a guess)of reserves I have observed in the energy sector. Kind of like money I have in the bank versus money I would “like” to have in the bank.

    In many ways, Alaska is a microcosm of America. Riches squandered on frivolous spending instead of building something substantial. And in the end hoping for some magical technology or some other fantasy to save us all.

  8. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 2:24 pm 

    They could mix in the leftover fryer grease. from Ethyl’s Diner in Juneau. That would increase the pipeline flow quite a bit.

  9. Anonymous on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 2:35 pm 

    I wonder how alaska will fare as an entity when it only produces a relative trickle of ‘new’ energy to pipe south to there slothful fellow merikans in the ‘lower 48’?

    At some point, likely in the near future, O&G will be a minor component at best in alaskas economy. What else will pick up the slack?

    Fishing? – West Coast fisheries collapsed not long ago and the industry never really recovered to its previous levels.
    Hunting, trapping? LOL, sure alaska can export beaver pelts to china so they can make them into fur hats to sell to Europeans.

    My guess is once the the O+G crunch really hits, there will be a general, slow migration from alaska south, to the empires over-populated, over-heated, and economically declining ‘homeland’. Some of the these internal alaskan migrants might find new jobs and security similar to what they used to enjoy up north, but most will just join the low-wage, trailer trash majority in the crumbling uS suburbs.

  10. JuanP on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 4:11 pm 

    Boat, do you understand that the more oil they pump now the less they will have later? I wonder how stupid you are exactly!

    Alaska has a few years of oil exports and government subsidies left, then it will go back to being what it always was, one of the world’s backwaters like Siberia and Patagonia. Alaska will also continue experiencing some of the most brutal consequences of CC for the foreseeable future.

  11. Lindsay on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 4:40 pm 

    There are huge amounts of oil in ANWR that could be flowing in 4 years if allowed by the wackos. It is only 70 miles from the pipeline, ANWR is over 20 MILLION acres and only 2000 are needed. This is all about making fossil fuels expensive so wind and solar can compete.

  12. Mark on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 4:49 pm 

    All this new Arctic oil, might as well be on the moon…..recovery cost is too high for present/future world economies.

  13. Boat on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 5:29 pm 


    I live in the world of reality. Not the world of could have been, should have been, if only we do this or that. Grow up little man, to the idea, that each of us has little impact on the future. Reading data that causes you burst into temper tantrums is more of a statement of your character and/or lack of it.

  14. shortonoil on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 5:46 pm 

    “All this new Arctic oil, might as well be on the moon…..recovery cost is too high for present/future world economies. “

    It now requires 56% of the energy in a barrel of oil to extract, process, and distribute it. The rest of the economy gets the 44%. There is no longer enough energy coming from it to make it cost effective in an internal combustion engine. An engine that uses what little energy it does get with a 20% or less efficiency. The price is going down to compensate, and it will continue to go down:

    As long as the world is stuck with the IC, the oil age is ending. There are alternatives, we are helping companies develop them; but the resistance to them is tremendous. Big oil, and Big auto are so deeply entrenched that they are like attempting to move a mountain with a tooth pick. If modern civilization fails – it will fail from its own structural inertness.

  15. energy investor on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 6:40 pm 


    You may be interested to read Joseph Tainer’s book “The Collapse of Complex Societies”. His conclusions come from archaeology. Once energy sources are not as abundant and cheap it is our societal complexity that will knock us down.

    Our turn is coming.

    The only thing I find that is strange about this is that you would have thought, with our intelligence, we would have learned from those who came before?

  16. bug on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 7:02 pm 

    “With our intelligence, we would have learned from those who came before”
    Haha, yeah right, the Clovis people destroyed their society in early America. Humans learn squat. How my years have we been talking about problems just to ignore them or say they are not real? Maybe animals learn from their mistakes and what came before, human , not much.

  17. Roger on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 7:20 pm 

    What a bunch of ignorant enviro-whack comments here. The hard part of production is the pipeline, which is already operating. But all the oil is on federal land, because nearly all of Alaska is federal land. With permission to drill, oil companies can keep the pipeline full at a reasonable production cost. Enviros used to claim the pipeline would kill caribou, but their numbers increased instead. No species have been endangered in 40 years of pipeline operation.

  18. JuanP on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 7:32 pm 

    Boat, Have you ever done something useful in your whole fucking life? I highly doubt it! LOL! Go back to wasting your life, moron!

  19. Ranger Adams on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 7:55 pm 

    I say that it is up to the people of Alaska what they do. How many people that commented live in Alaska? I stay out of others back yard. At this time oil and gas are needed so drill it.

  20. coot on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 8:01 pm 

    All things must pass…

  21. James Walters on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 10:45 pm 

    The pendulum is going to swing…very hard. Three or four years from now the World will be wondering how we got so vulnerable to failing supply. I have no hope the Obama administration, with its myopic view, will do anything other than force the taps further closed. Be ready to ride out the storm. Fortunately for Canada and the USA, we have the resources to recover, but it will get ugly in the meantime.

  22. makati1 on Sat, 30th Jul 2016 11:23 pm 

    James, what “resources”? I don’t see any. Enumerate please.

  23. James Gerard on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 1:46 am 

    We Have a fossil fuel problem, but it is not one of supply. It cannot be solved by drilling for more. The problem is climate change, and it is going to devastate the entire planet.

    We must transition from oil to non-polluting energy. Wind and Solar are not the best answers. They are both variable and diffuse energy and require a massive amount of material to produce, and huge expensive grid extensions to distribute.

    The best solution is MSR/LFTR (Molten Salt Reactors/Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors). These are totally fail safe, can burn present stockpiles of nuclear waste as fuel (and when that is gone in a couple hundred years, there is plenty of Thorium for the indefinite future.

    They can be built to any needed size, and would be ideal power for large ocean vessels. Alaska could have its own energy and a lot of employment running and building it.

    See timothymaloney dot net for excellent graphic explanations and important articles on related topics.

    Read “Super Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future” by Richard Martin. His very readable book gives a fascinating history of the nuclear industry, and how the MSR was bypassed in a serious mistake by the US government.

  24. makati1 on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 3:25 am 

    Dream on James. Pie in the sky when the governments of the world cannot afford to decommission the nukes that are killing them, how do you expect a new generation of very expensive and very long construction time lines, to ever happen? your reading selections should should be titled ‘science fiction’, I think.

  25. shortonoil on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 7:08 am 

    “At this time oil and gas are needed so drill it.”

    It will not be drilled because no one can afford to drill it:

    As we have been saying for the last few years, oil production will cease when oil producers can no longer make money producing oil. That time has come!

    It has to be understood that petroleum production is an energy producing process. The amount of energy produced is determined by the process, not the quantity of oil produced. The overall efficiency of that process (extraction, refining, distribution, and consumption) has declined to a level that now makes most of it unusable. Simply put, we are no longer able to extract enough energy from oil to make its production profitable. The reduction in energy supplied reduces its value to the economy, and thus its price declines.

    In essence, the process must be changed if we are to continue using oil as an energy source. The ability to use oil determines if our civilization will continue. There are possible alternatives, but those alternatives will result in the decentralization of energy production. They would also result in a dramatic decline in byproducts produced.

    The decentralization is the stumbling block. Neither Big Business, or Big Government wants it, or will allow it. They are obviously loath to supporting something that will result in their own termination. Something that will result in the decline of their power, and prestige. We are now caught in a devise of our own design.

  26. Kenz300 on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 9:50 am 

    Wind and solar energy are the future……….

    Energy from Offshore: Engineering Firm Transitions Expertise from Offshore Oil to Offshore Wind –

    3 Sure Signs of Texas’ Emerging Solar Market

  27. David N on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 12:45 pm 

    About the Thorium reactors. You may be right but, to this day, no one has ever demonstrated their commercial viability. I know India is trying to bring them to market, but so far they have not. So, let us wait till the technology has been demonstrated.

  28. Dredd on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 12:58 pm 

    Oil-Qaeda man speaks with oily tongue (Oil-Qaeda: The Indictment).

  29. James Gerard on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 2:29 pm 

    makati, Mr Wish/Do, go read the articles I referenced. Read the book.

    Your opinions are uninformed except by anti-nuke propaganda. Decommissioning the “nukes” would provide fuel for MSR.

    David N: Go to thorconpower dot com

    That is a company ready to build the basic MSR right now, and as of the last time I checked, they were progressing with a project in Indonesia to do just that – build the first commercial MSR.

    They are using the basic form of MSR as it was built in Oak Ridge in the 1960’s and tested successfully for over 20,000 hours.

  30. shortonoil on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 6:35 pm 

    “Your opinions are uninformed except by anti-nuke propaganda.”

    It would require 58.4 trillion KWhrs/ year to replace the energy that is now being supplied from oil. That is 6,667 1000 MW plants running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

    Doesn’t sound like he is too far off.

  31. makati1 on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 6:35 pm 

    James, not going to happen. I don’t care how many books and articles are written, I know history and that many promises of a better life have been made and then never happened. Nuclear electric was to be “too cheap to meter” and look at the cost now. Stickers on the windows of new cars have always been lies. Planned obsolescence is the game, not advancements.

    Techies, especially young ones, have been fed the line of bullshit for so long they believe it as truth, when all it is is more lies. Someone looking for investors or selling a book. Tech will end with the age of oil. There is no money to invest in new so all we get are ‘upgrades’ and games added to the old. It’s ALL about money.

  32. Boat on Sun, 31st Jul 2016 7:28 pm 


    “Big oil, and Big auto are so deeply entrenched that they are like attempting to move a mountain with a tooth pick. If modern civilization fails – it will fail from its own structural inertness”.

    “If modern civilization fails – it will fail from its own structural inertness”.

    We can agree on that. Self interest has always been the biggest weakness of humans as a species. From race to religion to trade to values to resources. Once the number of humans gets past one, each human added creates more complexity.

  33. george on Tue, 2nd Aug 2016 9:27 am 

    we are all screwed .
    my advice is to drink heavily and often.

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