AQA Geography Cold Environments - Oil in Alaska

Revision notes on the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS) and oil extraction in Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR)

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  • Created on: 25-04-12 16:19
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Daniel Ellis
The Trans Alaskan Pipeline (TAPS)
What is TAPS ­ An 800 mile oil pipe spanning Alaska
Why is TAPS needed ­ The main oil extraction site in Alaska is Prudhoe
Bay on the North coast which is surrounded by the Beaufort Sea, which is frozen for most of the year.
This prevents ships carrying oil from Prudhoe Bay. The pipeline transports the oil across Alaska to the
Southern port of Valdez where ships can the transport the oil to the rest of the USA as Valdez is
surrounded by the warmer waters in the Gulf of Alaska
Problems faced by TAPS and how they have been solved:
Air temperatures fall to -50°C so to ensure the oil inside the pipe remains above 60°C the pipe is
The heat from the oil in the pipe could radiate into the permafrost causing thawing producing
thermokarst, this would cause the ground to move. To prevent this the pipeline is elevated so the
heat is not conduced into the ground.
The pipeline crosses an earthquake zone so TAPS has been
designed so the elevated structure allows the pipe to shift sideways on it's supports. The pipeline
is also in a zigzag pattern so it is able to adjust during ground movements.
TAPS crosses a major caribou migrating belt so the pipeline has sections that are 3m above ground
to allow the caribou to walk underneath.
Some areas of the pipe had to be built
underground but the heat from the oil would thaw permafrost here so the pipe is insulated by

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Daniel Ellis
thick concrete to stop the heat being conducted into the ground. 6.5km of the underground
section of the pipe have refrigeration units to ensure the ground remains frozen.
Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR)
Arctic Power want to drill for oil in ANWR, many people agree with this however others are against
exploitation of this fragile environment.…read more


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