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DOI Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act
Environmental Issues: Essential Primary Sources, 2006. 
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By: United States Congress

Date: November 16, 1973

Source: U.S. Congress. "DOI Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act." November 16, 1973. <http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/cor/byagency/doi1651.htm> (accessed March 16, 2006).

The 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and is considered necessary to the economy of the United States, as well as an environmental threat.The 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and is considered necessary to the economy of the United States, as well as an environmental threat. AP Images

About the Author: The Congress of the United States was established by Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. It is the legislative arm of the U.S. Federal Government.


In 1968, oil was discovered in the Prudhoe Bay area in northern Alaska. Many oil companies discussed various methods of transporting the oil, but it was decided that the most economical method was to construct a pipeline system. This would transport the oil from the icy northern slopes of Alaska to the comparatively warmer, ice-free Port of Valdez in southern Alaska. From here it would be easier to transport oil to other refineries in the United States by ships, tankers, and other means.

Subsequently, in 1970 a consortium of oil companies together formed Alyeska, a pipeline service company to construct, maintain, and service the pipeline.

The U.S. Department of the Interior issued an environmental impact statement for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) project in 1972. In November 1973, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act that authorized this construction was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. However, the construction of the pipeline was deferred because of environmental concerns and disputes.

The DOI Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act aims to reduce American dependence on foreign sources of oil by allowing easy transportation and availability of crude oil for domestic use. The Act begins with the congressional finding and declaration that the delivery of northern Alaskan oil to the national markets was in the national interest due to growing shortages and increased American dependence on foreign oil. The construction of a pipeline would favor the transportation and availability of Alaskan oil for domestic use, and would be of immense benefit to the U.S. economy.

As mentioned above, the Act also authorizes the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. In 1974, the Federal Government granted a right of way to the pipeline. Construction of the pipeline began in April 1974 and was completed in May 1977. The first oil was pumped through the system in July 1977.



The Congress finds and declares that:

(a) The early development and delivery of oil and gas from Alaska'sNorth Slope to domestic markets is in the national interest because ofgrowing domestic shortages and increasing dependence upon insecureforeign sources.

(b) The Department of the Interior and other Federal agencies, have, over a long period of time, conducted extensive studies of the technical aspects and of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the proposed trans-Alaska oil pipeline, including consideration of a trans-Canada pipeline.

(c) The earliest possible construction of a trans-Alaska oilpipeline from the North Slope of Alaska to Port Valdez in that Statewill make the extensive proven and potential reserves of low-sulfur oilavailable for domestic use and will best serve the national interest.

(d) A supplemental pipeline to connect the North Slope with a trans-Canada pipeline may be needed later and it should be studied now, but it should not be regarded as an alternative for a trans-Alaska pipeline that does not traverse a foreign country.

Short Title of 1990 Amendment Pub. L. 101-380, title VIII, Sec. 8001, Aug. 18, 1990, 104 Stat.564, provided that: "This title [enacting sections 1642 and 1656 of this title, amending sections 1350 and 1653 of this title and section3145 of Title 16, Conservation, and enacting provisions set out as notes under this section and section 1653 of this title] may be cited as the "Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Reform Act of 1990"

Short Title Section 201 of title II of Pub. L. 93-153 provided that: "Thistitle [enacting this chapter] may be cited as the "Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act"

Separability Section 411 of Pub. L. 93-153 provided that: "If any provision ofthis Act [enacting this chapter, section 1456a of this title, andsection 3512 of Title 44, Public Printing and Documents, amendingsection 1608 of this title, sections 45, 46, 53, and 56 of Title 15, Commerce and Trade, section 185 of Title 30, Mineral Lands and Mining, section 3502 of Title 44, and section 391a of former Title 46, Shipping, and enacting provisions set out as notes under sections 1608 and 1651 of this title, section 1904 of Title 12, Banks and Banking, section 45 of Title 15, section 791a of Title 16, Conservation, and section 1221 of Title 33, Navigation and Navigable Waters] or the applicability thereof is held invalid the remainder of this Act shall not be affected thereby."

Presidential Task Force Pub. L. 101-380, title VIII, Sec. 8103, Aug. 18, 1990, 104 Stat.567, established a Presidential Task Force on the Trans-Alaska PipelineSystem, to conduct an audit of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and make recommendations to the President, Congress, and the Governor of Alaska, authorized appropriations for the Task Force, and required it to transmit its final report to the President, Congress, and the Governor no later than 2 years after the date on which funding was made available.

North Slope Crude Oil; Report on Equitable Allocation Pub. L. 94-586, Sec. 18, Oct. 22, 1976, 90 Stat. 2916, directed thatthe President, within 6 months of Oct. 22, 1976, determine specialexpediting procedures necessary to insure the equitable allocation ofNorth Slope crude oil to the Northern Tier States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Illinois, Indiana, and Idaho to carry out the provisions of section 410 of Pub. L. 93-153 [set out below], and to report his findings to Congress, such report to include a statement demonstrating the impact that the delivery system would have on reducing the dependency of New England and the Middle Atlantic States on foreign oil imports.

Trans-Canada Pipeline; Negotiations With Canada; Feasibility Study Title III (Secs. 301-303) of Pub. L. 93-153 authorized the President to enter into negotiations with the Government of Canada to determine Canadian willingness to permit construction of pipelines or other transportation systems across its territory to bring gas and oil from Alaska's North Slope to the United States; the need for intergovernmental agreements to protect interests of any parties involved with construction, operation, and maintenance of such natural gas or oil transportation systems; terms and conditions for construction across Canadian territory; desirability of joint studies to insure environmental protection, reduce regulatory uncertainty, and insure meeting energy requirements; quantity of oil and gas for which Canada would guarantee transit; and acquisition of other energy sources so as to make unnecessary the shipment of oil from the Alaska pipeline by tanker into the Puget Sound area. The President was to report to Congress on actions taken and recommendations for further action. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior was to investigate, and to report to Congress within 2 years of Nov. 16, 1973, as to the feasibility of oil or gas pipelines from the North Slope of Alaska to connect with a pipeline through Canada that would deliver oil or gas to United States markets. Nothing in title III was to limit the authority of the Secretary or any other Federal official to grant a gas or oil pipeline right-of-way or permit, which that official was otherwise authorized by law to grant.

Exclusion of Persons From Trans-Alaska Pipeline Activities on Basis ofRace, Creed, Color, National Origin, or Sex Prohibited Section 403 of Pub. L. 93-153 provided that: "The Secretary of the Interior shall take such affirmative action as he deems necessary to assure that no person shall, on the grounds of race, creed, color, national origin, or sex, be excluded from receiving, or participating in any activity conducted under, any permit, right-of-way, public land order, or other Federal authorization granted or issued under title II[this chapter]. The Secretary of the Interior shall promulgate such rules as he deems necessary to carry out the purposes of this subsection and may enforce this subsection, and any rules promulgated under this subsection, through agency and department provisions and rules which shall be similar to those established and in effect under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [section 2000d et seq. of Title 42, The Public Health and Welfare]."

Equitable Allocation of North Slope Crude Oil Section 410 of Pub. L. 93-153 provided that: "The Congress declares that the crude oil on the North Slope of Alaska is an important part ofthe Nation's oil resources, and that the benefits of such crude oil should be equitably shared, directly or indirectly, by all regions of the country. The President shall use any authority he may have to insure an equitable allocation of available North Slope and other crude oil resources and petroleum products among all regions and all of theseveral States."


TAPS traverses a distance of nearly 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) across Alaska. It also crosses thirty-four major rivers, around 800 mountain streams, and three mountain ranges. In general, the construction of a trans-geographical pipeline such as this entails significant environmental concerns.

The construction of TAPS was a major issue during the time of its construction, due to the potential environmental impact it could have on the fragile Alaskan environment. However, the growing oil needs of the United States, and also the increasing need of reliability on domestic sources, tipped the scales in favor of building the pipeline.

Over the years, the broad view that transportation of oil by pipeline would be more economical and safe has not been true. Since the early 2000s, a number of concerns and issues like the physical condition of pipeline, the operations, and management aspects of the system have plagued TAPS.

The fragile Alaskan environment dictated that the pipeline be built above ground. Also considering that the hot crude flowing through the Alaskan environment would be a danger to the Alaskan permafrost (permanently frozen subsoil), special supporting structures were constructed to support the 48-inch (1.2-meter) diameter pipeline.

However, the physical condition of many of the structures that support the pipeline above ground is questionable. There have been reports of corrosion in the pipeline also. At some places the pipeline walls have been reduced to nearly half their original thickness.

In 1988, an 8.5-mile (13.7-kilometer) section of the pipe had to be replaced because of corrosion. Further, accidents have routinely occurred on the pipeline. These include shutdowns, spills, fires, and flow reductions. Reportedly, there was an alarming increase in the number of such incidents in 1994 and 1995. All of these have affected the environment significantly.

One such accident occurred in March 1989 at Port Valdez, the main loading point for the pipeline. Just outside Port Valdez, a transport tanker ship called the Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil. A study to examine the magnitude of the disaster revealed that nearly 5,000 otters, 300 harbor seals, 200,000 birds of ninety different species, and many hundreds of other fish and animals were killed due to the oil spill. The spill also caused significant decrease in the population of a number of plant and marine species. It caused damage to a number of ecosystems and subsidiary components. Exxon eventually spent $2 billion toward cleanup operations.

In addition to the accidents, considering the age of the pipeline, many experts are seriously concerned about safety issues in the system. Environmental agencies such as the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center have raised doubts about the structural integrity of the pipeline. There also have been scientific reports that climate changes may affect the pipeline.

However, in 1994, the federal government renewed the right of way granted to the pipeline owners for another thirty years, until 2024. The renewal was granted without any modifications to the original plans. Factors like climate change, age of the pipeline, technological modifications needed, current concerns like TAPS performance, and the environment were not considered.

Environmental protection groups feel that the consequences of the ability or the inability of TAPS to function as planned in the years to come can make or break the case for the Alaskan environment. Should the pipe fail, it could be an enormous disaster to the Alaskan environment, and could unwind the positive environmental actions taken over the decades.


Web sites

Sorensen, Steve P., and Keith J. Meyer. "Effect of the Denali Fault Rupture on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline." Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. <http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/Inthenews/techpapers/2-TAPS%20Fault%20Crossing%20Denali%20EQ.pdf> (accessed March 16, 2006).

"Alaska Oil Disaster 'Imminent'." BBC News, July 12, 1999. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/391698.stm> (accessed March 16, 2006).

Northern Alaska Environmental Center. "Alaska's Arctic: Current Situation." Northern Alaska Environmental Center. <http://www.northern.org/artman/publish/acurrent.shtml> (accessed March 16, 2006).

――――――. "The Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS)." Northern Alaska Environmental Center. <http://www.northern.org/artman/publish/taps.shtml> (accessed March 16, 2006).

Source Citation:
"DOI Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act." Environmental Issues: Essential Primary Sources. Ed. Brenda Lerner and K. Lerner. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 292-296. Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources. Web. 27 June 2019.
Gale Document Number:CX3456400114

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