Secondary Negative Effects
The Trans-Alaskan pipeline has had many negative impacts on Alaska. Impacts on the natives, economy, workers, and the environment of Alaska. In this section, the secondary negative impacts from the time of the construction of the pipeline to the spill of the Exxon Valdez will be discussed.
Fairbanks is a town in a Alaska located approximately halfway between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez. When construction began in January 1974, Fairbanks became the perfect place for hiring halls to set up and also for warehouses. Just like the gold rush at the turn of the century, people flocked to Fairbanks for the high paying jobs offered by the pipeline contractors. The lowest wage being paid was ten dollars and sixty-seven cents which was approximately double of the current standard construction wage in 1974. This wage was only for regular hours, overtime wage was time and half and double on Sundays and holidays. The highest paid workers were the welders who made around 90,000 dollars a year. The reason for such high wages was due to the desire of the oil companies involved to complete the pipeline as soon as possible, and were willing to pay top dollar to get the job done. With these extraordinary wages being offered, thousands of people flocked to Fairbanks to get jobs. Fairbanks population went from 10,000 people to 20,000 people from 1970 to 1975 and kept on increasing. Under the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act passed by congress in 1973 Alaskan residents had preference over out of state workers but this was easily circum-vented through a big counterfeit ring. Fake residency were readily available to be bought and hiring halls were willing to accept the fakes. Even the local law didn't seem to care. In one case, a counterfeiter caught with two hundred phony cards was let free by a judge who said that the man had claimed them to be fake so therefore he had committed no crime.( Strohmeyer, 1993) So the workers continued to come and with the influx of people and money, prices skyrocketed. Single room apartments were being rented at 600 dollars a month, and hamburgers that usually sold for seventy-five cents were being sold for four dollars. With all this booming business other kinds of businesses popped up in Fairbanks such as gambling houses, bordellos and drugs. Crime levels in Fairbanks and other cities in Alaska increased drastically and the small police forces were no match for this crime wave. Towns like Fairbanks and Valdez became places where pipeline workers could go and party for their week off. Many paychecks were blown on drugs, prostitution, gambling or on the army of con men which invaded these cities with there phony wares. Places where crime was worse was in the camps on the trail of the pipeline. Rape, theft, gambling, prostitution, and other violent crime was rising steeply among these camps. The pipeline authorities were very lax in upholding the law. Also they were accused of being late in reporting crimes to the state police. State Attorney General Avrum M. Gross is quoted in the Los Angeles Times on November 18th, 1975 as saying "Alyeska is willing to accept a certain level of theft in order to buy labor peace. They'll do no nothing to provoke the unions. They just want to finish that line. They've stayed about ten miles away from state law enforcement people." This is a very true statement and crime did continue because of Alyeska's great push on speed and willingness to pay. Alyeska even made an agreement with the seventeen international craft unions to agree that there would be no slowdowns, strikes, or work stoppages and in return there would be high wages for workers, and since all pipeline workers had to be in a union to get hired the unions made a killing with their workers dues. One union that gained a lot of power in Alaska was Teamster Local 959 led by Jesse L. Carr. The teamsters held control of one third of Alaska's recruitable work force from the pipeline to the police department to the medical employees. The Teamsters amassed about a million dollars a week from there membership dues. The teamsters basically got whatever they wanted which was usually high paying useless jobs for it's members, and if Alyeska tried to fight, Carr would go around the no-strike clause by calling an emergency "safety" meetings which pulled teamsters off their jobs and stopped work as effectively as any strike. (Strohmeyer, 1993) Carr was also accused of bringing in ex-cons to work in Fairbank's warehouses where many supplies that were brought in for the pipeline mysteriously disappeared. Alyeska chief Ed Patton said in one speech in 1975 that "Teamsters Local 959 thinks it runs the state of Alaska.....and that's about right." Finally in 1976 a federal organized strike force from California and the FBI were sent in to investigate the crime situation and the Teamster's connection with organized. After a two year investigation, nine people, including a former US attorney, were indicted but all the cases were either thrown out or acquitted. (Strohmeyer, 1993)
Native Americans in Alaska were also impacted by the construction of the pipeline. Alyeska was obligated to hire at least 3,000 natives to work on the pipeline. Most natives who worked left after a short time to go back to their village. Other natives hung in there and were exposed to the drugs, alcohol, and gambling that seemed to follow the pipeline. Also they made about 1,000 dollars a week which compared to the average salary of a village family was 5,200 dollars a year was a fortune. Charles Elder Jr. a former vice-president of Alyeska said,"They hung in there because they were being converted to a cash economy. They discovered what money was and what you could do with it. (Strohmeyer, 1993) The pipeline exposure and money caused much trouble in the balance of native villages as drugs entered the environment for the first time and so did the greed for money. Many young people left the older members of the villiage to go and live in the city, or pushed for changes in the old ways of the village. Many villages were ruined by this split caused by money.
The construction of the pipeline had many negative effects on the social and economic structure of Alaska. It brought much crime and drugs to a relatively quiet Alaska. Also it disrupted many lives of Native Alaskan villages. Many of these problems were due to Alyeska's effort to have the pipeline finished as quickly as possible at high costs. This rush also brought upon negative impacts when the pipeline began to start running.
Between 1970 and 1986 there has been over three hundred spills of more than one hundred gallons of oil from the pipeline. Since 1977 over 10,000 meteric tons of crude oil has been lost. (Coates, 1991) Most of these spills are due to the rush job that Alyeska did to build the pipeline and their lack of management of the pipeline when it was running. Pumping stations lacked management and often equipment. Employees often lacked the proper training to work the machinery and safety was at the bottom of the importance list for Alyeska. Oil spill safety drills were considered jokes by employees and were never carried out properly. Former oil spill coordinator for Alyeska Jerry Nebel was quoted as saying "We knew exactly what was coming, where we were supposed to be, and we still messed it up. Drills were a farce, comic opera." In a 1988 inventory of cleanup equipment conducted by Alyeska, half the emergency lights were missing. They were later found set up in preparation for Valdez's winter carnival. The reason Alyeska could get away with such flagrant mismanagement was that there was no real punishment the government could administer besides shutting down the pipeline , which was never considered because of the money at stake that the pipeline provided. The sensitivity of the detection equipment was definitely not up to par for oil spills from the pipeline. Late in the seventy's, 3,000 barrels of oil could leak out in one day from the pipeline and no instruments would pick it up. Also Alyeska only had one helicopter flight a day along the pipeline. After many spills and many complaints from environmental groups and the government, did Alyeska finally upgrade it's detection system to pick up a 1000 barrel leak and had three helicopter flights a day along the pipeline. The biggest leaks along the pipeline happened June 1979 at Antigun Pass, which is the highest point along the pipeline route. The pipe sagged after the ground below thawed and 5,267 barrels of oil spilled into the Antigun River and headed north to the Beaufort Sea. There was another large leak at the 734 mile mark along the pipeline that was also a result from the thawing of the ground. (Coates, 1991)
Another impact that the pipeline's mismanagement had was in the area of air pollution. There were many complaints from critics of the pipeline about large amounts of hydrocarbons being released from pumping stations . There was also criticism of the vapour recovery system in Valdez. There is a large bladder at the end of the pipeline which stores oil until it is loaded onto the tankers. The vapour recovery system was supposed to pick up the vapor coming off the oil and burn the hydrocarbons at high temperatures(1,400 degrees Fahrenheit)The system constantly sprang leaks and the incinerators rarely operated at the correct temperatures, and when hydrocarbons are burned lower that 1,400 degrees, the result is worse air pollution. Between 1980 to 1985, the vapour recovery system was operating on the average of one out of five days. A final source of air pollution's was the tankers sitting in Port Valdez. 1,000 tons of hydrocarbons a week come out of the vents on the decks of the stationary tankers.
Tankers is the final area to be discussed with regard to negative impacts. With the pipeline running, the tanker traffic to Valdez increased greatly. With this increase of traffic came the inevitable oil spills. In January 1989, The Thompson Pass leaked about 72,000 gallons of oil into Port Valdez. It had been reported that it had a leak when it left San Fransisco, but British Petroleum, who owned the ship, sent it up to Valdez. Two weeks later another tanker, the Cove Leader, spilled 2,500 gallons into Port Valdez. (Keeble, 1991) There were numerous cases of small leaks into Port Valdez from tankers, but there was never anything done about them, and the oil companies continued untouched. It wasn't until 12:04 AM, March 24th, 1989 when the worlds gaze finally lay upon the goings on in Alaska. At this time the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. The tanker ended up spilling 11 million gallons of oil from it's hull. The oil spilled covered 1,200 miles of Alaskan shoreline. The cleanup effort that Alyeska put forward was hopeless. They did not have on hand the proper equipment and were not prepared to handle the spill. The damage of the spill was immense. 1,000 sea otters and 100,000 birds died from the oil. They cause of death usually was hypothermia because the oil covered the animals fur or feathers and the animal could no longer resist the cold temperatures of Alaska. Beaches were covered with slick oil and littered with dead animals. In the following weeks Exxon put forward a massive cleanup attempt, throwing around money to fly in special equipment and experts. Beaches were washed down with hot water and the rocks were scrubbed. Exxon gave up trying to say it was cleaning the beaches and started to say they were treating the beaches. Many major scientists feel that this cleanup effort was more harm than helpful. They point out the Amoco Cadiz spill which dumped 68 million gallons of oil onto the coast of France in 1978. Dr. Michel, a scientist who researched the spill for the National Science Foundation was quoted to say
"The story is much the same in all crude-oil spills. On exposed rocky beaches with much wave action, little oil is left after a year. On quieter beaches the oil persists from two to three years and is frequently mixed with sand and buried. Salt marshes suffer the most damage, and efforts to clean them are too destructive to do any good. In general fish and bird populations tend to be replaced." Dr. Michel also said of the cleanup effort of the Exxon Valdez spill that "Our tests showed large scale mortality in beach organisms after some hot water washes. Also, because of the flushing away of oil-coated sediments, we found up to ten times more hydrocarbons in the intertidal and subtidal zones than we did after the initial spill." In many cases treated beaches were in worse shape than untreated ones. (Hodgson, 1990)
Alyeska definitely fell short on its promise to be prepared fore any major oil spills. They took days to react and never organized much of an effort. There was definitely a serious mismanagement o Alyeska's part in running their pipeline. The Exxon Valdez has brought much attention to Alyeska and there practices. This spill was the biggest in US history and really shook the nation on how this could have happened.
As it can be seen, the Trans-Alaskan pipeline project was far from perfect. Much blame can be put on the management of the pipeline Alyeska and even the government of the United States. The pipeline project was a rush job, and many problems were purposely looked over. Money and greed got in the way of many people's vision who were involved with the pipeline. It is safe to say Alaska has not and will never be the same ever since the pipeline arrived.