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Lindsey Williams – The Energy Non-Crisis – Chapter 11

Chapter 11: The Barges Froze and Cracked and Popped

Time went by. Now I had been Chaplain on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline for two years. I had spent two years watching and examining, in constant contact with the men who were planning and then undertaking the construction of this great project.

Now it was all beginning to add up, and here is the way it looked.

In 1971, the oil companies had first proposed the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. At that time the projected cost was $600,000,000. That was the anticipated figure in 1971, but before it could actually begin in Alaska, the government stepped in and said, “No, until more surveys are undertaken, and more guidelines have been laid down in such areas as the protection of the ecology, you will not build the pipeline.”

The nine major oil companies of America had hauled that big pipe from Japan to Alaska. It is interesting to notice that the pipe itself had been built in Japan, because prices were already beginning to go so high, even back in 1971. By that time it was cheaper to buy it abroad and ship it across the water to Alaska. So it was that an American bank financed a Japanese steel company for the purpose of building the big pipe for the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. While the pipe was actually bought and made in Japan and then shipped to America, it had to be stored from 1971 until 1974 in pipe yards—in Fairbanks, Valdez, and Prudhoe Bay—three sites in Alaska. Then in 1974, the pipeline began to take shape: the government had issued their permits, surveys had been made, the ecology had been studied from 1971 to 1974, and an entirely new method of building the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline had been devised. At that time inflation was beginning to cut even deeper into the American economy. There was an increasing spiral of inflation in the early 70’s-up to that time the prices remained more or less the same year after year. When the pipeline began to be initiated in 1974, the cost estimate was no longer $600,000,000 (600 million dollars), but $2,000,000,000 (2 billion dollars)!

Moving on to 1976, it was interesting to stand and look back, and also to look forward. In 1971, the figure was $600, 000,000—we needed the oil at that time, but there was no energy crisis. Nevertheless, the country needed oil and private enterprise could produce it. However, the oil was on government-owned land, and so the project was stopped until government had their say. In 1974 the project cost was $2,000,000,000 for the cost of that pipeline. Now we reach 1976, and the oil company officials were saying that, because of cost overruns, the total cost of the oil pipeline would probably exceed $12,000,000,000. At that point it was all beginning to add up. I was beginning to realize that there was indeed something in the wind.

There was an underlying force that was attempting to control both the oil companies and the flow of oil. From 1976 on, frustration began to be intensified. Permits were withdrawn, even though they had been issued for the entire time of the construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and had been promised as such by the Federal government. Now I was watching as one after another they were withdrawn in an attempt to frustrate the entire project. Regulations were being intensified—there had been plenty of time in two years to update the regulations by which the government controlled the whole operation, in such matters as the protection of the environment.

I remembered that first book dealing with regulations that I had taken to my dorm room in 1974. Even at that time I had read through it very carefully and wondered at what I read—private enterprise was building this immense pipeline, and yet was being told what to do in minute detail, having to get specific permission at all sorts of points from the Federal government, even though that government was not putting one penny into the entire project. I was watching as their permits were being withdrawn and even more stringent regulations imposed.

It indeed seemed that the Federal government did not want the oil to flow. The oil was found on Federal and state lands north of the Brooks Mountains, and most of the land was owned by the Federal government. 92% of all the land in Alaska is owned by the Federal and State governments. Only 8% is owned by individuals, so the oil is on government-owned land. So it was that the oil companies were told what they could do, in very great detail.

I had always thought of the government as having been elected by the people, for the people, and of the people, so surely the government would want what was best for the American people. Surely we have not lost sight of the fact that private enterprise has made this nation so great and prosperous. That has been so since the time that our forefathers devised the method of incentive to allow private companies to develop and produce. This land in Alaska was owned by the Federal government—therefore, is not this the land of the people of America? Did they really not want the fuel to be produced? If that was the situation, why? There was supposed to be an energy crisis.

Then I remembered that Mr. X had said that the oil companies had been allowed to to produce oil for the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline from only one 100-square-mile area of this North Slope of Alaska, and I remembered that the North Slope of Alaska includes many times 100 square miles. Mr. X had said that all of the land north of the Brooks Mountains included many pools of oil—it was there in vast quantities beneath that North Slope. Nevertheless, private enterprise and the oil companies of America are allowed to produce from only one of those pools. They have been deliberately limited to one 100-square-mile area.

Then I remembered that “precious” tundra—that seemed to be all I could hear about on the news and from the ecologists … the cry constantly was, “Preserve the tundra!” . . . the tundra was so precious. Yet I actually watched them lay large areas of styrofoam for insulation under the road, a road that was nothing but gravel. I watched them bring in truckload after truckload after truckload of large sheets of styrofoam, and then they would lay them straight onto the tundra, then the gravel would be put on top of that. They would lay a gravel pad on top of that styrofoam just to keep the ground from thawing and to preserve the tundra. I watched re-seeding taking place after they had laid the pipe. I thought of those men who were literally fired because they happened to drive a bulldozer out on the tundra, off the road that had been built—a road that was actually a road laid out across the bare North Slope.

I remembered that I had watched the caribou who had never seen humans before, and that I had watched the bears, bears that did not know that they were supposed to be afraid of us, walk right into the camp. I knew that their migration paths had never been disturbed. Even the wolves had no fear of man in these areas.

It seems rather strange that today, about three years after the oil pipeline has been completed, that its construction did not destroy the environment or disturb the tundra, or other aspects of the environment in any major way whatever. Let us summarize a few facts that we have already presented, and some others that are just as relevant. I thought back to those two falcons, falcons that could not be disturbed while they were nesting, and so $2,000,000 had to be spent to reroute the road rather than disturb them at that time —$1,000,000 per falcon.

Next, I could never forget that large flotilla of barges that were brought each year from the West Coast of the lower 48 states, bringing all the supplies and equipment necessary for the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Entire buildings and other constructions had been assembled in the lower 48 and placed on huge barges and floated by way of the Pacific Ocean through the Baring Sea, then into the Arctic Ocean, and eventually across to Prudhoe Bay. Each year one of the highlights was when the flotilla of barges came in. They brought everything, from the big pump stations to the flow stations to the pipe itself. They brought in vehicles, dormitories, and everything necessary in the way of large construction equipment, such as drilling rigs … and on and on. They brought in everything that was needed for the work of producing oil from the fields at Prudhoe Bay.

Then in 1975, the weather just simply did not cooperate. That flotilla would have to wait until the Arctic ice had left the ocean. The flotilla would usually stand for weeks at a place called Wainwright. They would wait for the ice to move at Barrow, and then they would have only a few days in which to get out. We would hear the message, “The ice is moving! The wind is moving from north to south—there’s a shifting!” So they would move out into Prudhoe Bay.

In 1974, the fleet had plenty of time to get around Point Barrow and into Prudhoe Bay, and to get back again to the lower 48 in protected ice less waters for the winter time. However, this year (1975) the weather simply was not cooperating, and every single hour was precious. Every moment had to be counted. Finally the ice broke just long enough for the flotilla to come around by Wainwright and Point Barrow. Then it arrived at Prudhoe Bay, but something was wrong—the ice was barely staying off shore, so the flotilla did not have time to get back out. The ice closed in again, the wind was not favorable, and soon it was clear that the flotilla of barges and the tugboats that brought them in would be stuck at Prudhoe Bay for the winter—they could not get out again.

This presented a problem. Before the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort Sea closed in again, somehow these barges had to be lifted out of the water and brought onto the land. However, the water is very shallow close to the land at Prudhoe Bay, and the barges were a long way from shore.

The equipment was brought in piece by piece, but then there were the expensive barges owned by the companies, and the tugboats that brought them in—how could they be saved? There was really only one way, and that was to build a dock. Why not? Put gravel out into the ocean and dock them on dry land, so that the ice would not crush them in the winter. Then I watched, knowing that time was precious. The Federal bureaucracy cares nothing for time, and seems to care nothing for private enterprise. The fact that they had millions of dollars in equipment tied up there, sitting out in that water, mattered little.

The water was gradually freezing in around the barges, and it would crush all that equipment. While they were deciding what to do, that is exactly what happened! The ice closed in around those big barges. They were able to save the tugboat, but the barges were left in the water, because there were some microorganisms on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean at that point, and the ecologist insisted they must not be destroyed by the building of a gravel dock out into the water to the point of the barges.

I watched as the big equipment was brought in. They were actually outfitting bulldozers so they could ride the bottom of the ocean and literally go up to the place where the barges were and pull them in. I saw huge nylon lines, bigger than I had ever seen before, brought in. They said that the big ‘dozers would literally pull the barges in, but then—NO! Surveys would have to be made … it would have to be found whether they were going to destroy any of those microorganisms, and the little, minute fish that swam on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean for only a short period each summer. The argument was that by taking those ‘dozers out into the middle of the ocean, for only a few hours, especially equipped as they were to pull those big barges in, they might somehow— just might destroy those microorganisms! In this area, even though it runs for hundreds of miles, we did not dare disturb the ecology, and surveyors must make their tests before a dock could be built or ‘dozers could be used to bring the barges in.

I watched as they stalled, and stalled, and stalled for time … until they had finally stalled long enough! The barges froze, and cracked, and popped. The big steel plates were literally destroyed, and millions of dollars worth of equipment was crushed by ice—Why? Could it be that the government did not want that flow of oil? Could it really be that there is no energy crisis, except the one they want to produce?

Then came that $10,000 outhouse to which we have already referred. Why $10,000 for an outhouse (just to prevent the tundra from receiving needed fertilizer, … and remember, nobody tried to put diapers on the bears and caribou)? No other company in American had to pay that price for an outhouse! They do not require such extravagance in our polluted population centers—yet there was no pollution, except for the pollution that was coming out of the smokestacks of those same $10,000 outhouses. You could smell it for miles if the wind happened to be blowing in your direction.

Further, I noticed sewage systems were having their permits withdrawn—from Galbraith Lake all the way to Prudhoe Bay. All withdrawn, even though they had been issued for the promised life of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline construction. Now within 9 to 12 months before the completion of the project, sewage systems were being removed—Why? The water coming from them was perfectly pure. They had met all regulations and standards. They had been approved and permits had been issued. Yet orders were now being issued for these sewage systems to be removed, and new ones, at exorbitant costs, were being brought in for one more year of the life of the construction of the Pipeline. All this was because of Federal and State government orders.

Was it an attempt to frustrate the construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline?

Then came 1976 and the last six months of the construction of the line. Here I was as Chaplain, in the midst of what appeared to be a planned frustration. If I may use the word without being misunderstood, there was apparently a plot to keep that oil from flowing. At the same time, all across America, there were lines of people standing and waiting for fuel. There was talk of rationing, and yet there was plenty of oil in Alaska, and apparently there was a frustration to prevent it from being used. The oil companies were doing their utmost. With all their power they were attempting to complete this pipeline and to supply oil for the people of our nation. Private enterprise has always done that from the beginning of this great nation.

Now that we had come to the last six months of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline construction, it seemed that everything went wrong. Suddenly there was another turn. Someone had said that the welding on the big pipe was faulty, but how could that be? I had watched day after day. Almost daily, in order to rub shoulders with the men as much as possible, I had driven up and down that long stretch of pipe where they were welding it together. I knew the men, the welders, and the other men who were laboring there. Many of them were in my worship services week after week, in the seven camps from Galbraith Lake to Prudhoe Bay. These included the men who were actually doing the welding, as well as the men who were X-raying the welds.

I asked them, “Are those welds on that pipe faulty?” And then, only months from the completion of the whole project, there was this possibility that the whole big pipe would have to be redone, from beginning to end. Where it went under the river bed it would have to be dug up. Can you imagine the destruction of the ecology if such a thing was to take place? The suggestion was that it be dug up where it had already been laid in the ground under the streams. At this time of the year that would have been almost literally an impossibility, for it would have destroyed the fish streams and the breeding grounds—that was what the ecologists hollered. They insisted, “It can’t be done now-you must wait. After all, we don’t dare touch those streams at this time of year.”

It was clear that a deliberate attempt was being made to stop the flow of that oil, to prevent the whole project from being brought to a successful conclusion—it seemed that the intention was that it would never be produced. The plan became increasingly clear and the tension increased every day.

The company that was X-raying the big pipe was accused of duplicating film. The charges were simply not substantiated. To the best of my knowledge, there was not one single leak after the oil went through, but you never heard it told later that all those millions spent at that time were spent unnecessarily. That received no publicity!

It became clearer that all of this was somehow planned. For two to three months all we heard was, “Faulty welding!” The word went out all across America that the pipeline had to be stopped—and even dug up. America was told that the oil would leak out onto the ground and would destroy the “precious” tundra. The news media proclaimed that this would be the biggest oil spill ever known on the face of the earth, and it must be stopped. Three years later you have heard of no oil spills, except those which were produced by people who attempted to sabotage the pipe after the oil actually began to flow.

You find no streams north of the Brooks Mountains with oil flowing into them because of the oil seeping from the ground where the pipe was laid. No, because there were no faulty welds in those pipes.

I am not merely giving an opinion—I had it from a thoroughly acceptable witness, as we shall see in our next chapter.

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