CHART: There’s Less Oil Going through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Today than When It Was Built

Jan 28, 2015 - 10:45am

Senior Editor, Digital Content


A section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline near Delta Junction, AK.
A section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline near Delta Junction, AK. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation went ballistic over President Obama’s decision to close off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development.

This chart explains why Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and other Alaska leaders are upset.

Since its peak in the late 1980’s there’s been a steady decline in the volume of oil transported from Alaska’s North Slope through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Today, there’s less oil moving through the pipeline than when it first went into operation in 1977.

During President Obama’s time in office, the volume of oil going through the pipeline has decreased by 20%.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board notes that the Obama administration has blocked efforts to increase Alaskan oil production [subscription required]:

The ANWR blockade also seems to be part of a larger strategy to starve the existing Trans-Alaska pipeline, the 800-mile system that carries oil south from state lands in Prudhoe Bay. ANWR occupies the land east of that pipeline. The Interior Department this week will release a five-year offshore drilling plan that puts vast parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—the area to the north of the pipeline—out of bounds for drilling. This follows an Administration move in 2010 to close down nearly half of the 23.5 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA)—the area west of the pipeline.

Federal agencies have also been playing rope-a-dope with companies attempting to drill on the few lands that are still available. ConocoPhillips has been waiting years for permits to access a lease it purchased in NPRA—and the Administration is this week expected to make that process even harder. Shell has spent $6 billion on plans to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort, only to be stymied by regulators.

The Arctic Outer Continental Shelf is estimated to hold at least 27 billion barrels of oil. ANWR is thought to have at least 10 billion more, while NPRA—designated in 1976 as a strategic petroleum stockpile—is considered equally rich. Yet not one drop of oil is flowing from these areas, and Mr. Obama seems intent on ensuring that none does.

By law if the pipeline shuts down because there’s no more oil available to be transported then it must be dismantled. And as we’ve seen with the political fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, approving another pipeline would be tenuous to say the least. If President Obama's ANWR decision were reversed by a future administration, high transportation costs would hinder North Slope energy development.

The editorial continues:

This is what environmentalists want because they know that if the pipeline shuts down, it must by law be dismantled. Since the pipeline is the only way to get large quantities of Alaskan oil south, shutting it down means closing to exploration one of the world’s greatest repositories of hydrocarbons.

Turning off the spigot to an energy infrastructure asset like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline isn’t wise strategically when future U.S. economic growth depends on access to abundant energy.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.