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Industry and the Environment
- Oil in Alaska

Where is it?
What is it like?
Description of development
Impact - Prudhoe Bay
What might the examiner ask?

Where is it?

The Prudhoe Bay Oilfield is on Alaska's northern (Arctic) coastline.

What is it like?

Provides 750 000 jobs across America.

In winter the area has 24 hours of darkness, low temperatures. Average in January is -15 °C. Even in July it's below 10°C.

The soil is permafrost. This means the soil is permanently frozen to a depth of several metres. In summer when the surface layer thaws the melt water cannot drain away. Therefore the surface is very boggy and unstable.

The sea is frozen for most of the year due to low temperatures. Even when it is not completely frozen there are many icebergs.

Description of development

  • Oil discovered in 1962
  • Construction work began in 1968
  • Oil had to be piped over 1000 km from Prudhoe Bay in the North to Valdez in the South.
  • Oil first pumped along pipeline in 1977
  • 1989 Exxon Valdez ran aground off Valdez


Cold might freeze the oil and stop it flowing Heat oil to 80°c before it enters the pipeline
The mountains in the south are in an arctic earthquake zone Make pipeline flexible to move with the earth
Construction work could destroy the frozen tundra Strict rules for construction teams - rewards if they do well
Pipeline may block the Caribou migration Build stilts 3 metres high

Impact - Prudhoe Bay

Oil tanker - Exxon Valdez ran aground on rocks.

The Alaska coast, near Valdez

March 1989

The tanker was 50 km off course

So what?
Total of 12 million gallons of crude oil were spilt damaging large areas of the land and marine ecosystem of Alaska. It contaminated 1900 km of coastline. The local wildlife and fishing industry was devastated. The clean up operation cost $1 Billion

What might the examiner ask?

Paper 1 (Multi Choice)

Definitions e.g. Permafrost

Identify Alaska as an oil area on a map of the world

Prudhoe Bay to Valdez Pipeline

Specific techniques for overcoming permafrost

Paper 2

Alaska can be a context for describing environments that make development difficult or the benefits of economic activity, impact of industry on the environment

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