Alaska- Conflicts and Pressures

Oil

The USofA has high demands for oil and a desire to not be dependent on the supply given by other, typically less stable countries.

Oppositions to the exploitation of Alaskan oil were largely based on the fragile tundra ecosystem of the state.

  • Only a few cm of top soil thaw in the summer, so productivity is low in plant life
  • Below the arctic circle, the tundra makes way for taiga forest which has a variety of coniferous tree types
  • Supported by these environments are a wide variety of other species such as caribou, moose, bears, wolves and wolverines.

The US Government’s National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 meant that all companies had to consider the environment and recognise the rights of indigenous peoples.

  • To prevent permafrost melting, oil installations at well-heads are raised on mattresses
  • Dalton Highway (open since 1994) provides a supply route from the South to Prudhoe Bay in the North. It is built 2 m off the tundra surface on a bed of gravel and sand.
  • Workers at oil fields who do 2 week shifts through the year are flown in by Air Alaska from Anchorage (in the South) and lie in Deadhorse in raised, heated cabins
  • The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, carrying oil 1,300 km from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez started being constructed in 1974 and was completed in 1977 at a cost of US$8 x 10^9. 5 pumping stations control oil flow. The pipeline is insulated and for most of its length is raised- both for access and to minimise environmental damage. The pipeline is built with a “zigzag” path to allow space for expansion of the pipeline in summer without the pipe breaking and leaking oil onto the tundra.
  • BP became the sole oil extractor at Prudhoe Bay in 2,000 but had to abandon parts of the oil field in 2009 as 900,000 litres of oil leaked from corroded pipes
  • In 1978 the Government increased areas of conservation in Alaska by 23 million hectare and by another 42 million in 1980

The oil is shipped out from Valdez by companies such as Exxon to refineries elsewhere in the USofA. Valdez is also dependent on commercial fishing.

 

  • The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 damaged large sections of the coastline
  • Since 2006 some double-hull oil tankers, offering more protection against potential obstacles, have been operating in Alaskan waters.

The area also has a threat of earthquakes and tsunamis due to being on a destructive plate boundary.

Geological activity

On 27th March 1964 an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, epicentre 112 km East of Anchorage occurred resulting in land beside Prince William Sound sinking around 2 m. Tsunami over 30m high have hit Valdez before- Valdez has had to be relocated to a higher, safer site because of this.

Tourism

Tourism in Alaska is mainly concentrated in June, July and August, and in the South. Many visitors come in cruise ships.

  • Tourists are bused between National Parks to admire wildlife and scenery
  • Many anglers from around the world visit Alaska
  • Many ferries and tourist vehicles also carry rangers who identify wildlife and geographical features

Fires

32% of Alaska is covered in forest. There are 4.8 million hectares of commercial forest

  • In 2004, 272 fires were caused by lightning and 424 by people One by Dalton Highway destroyed 195,576 hectares of forest

Ash from fire can release minerals which help plant growth and also leaves areas of the forest floor exposed to sunlight so more plants can grow there.

Population

In 2,000 Alaska had 626,932 residents, and now has 736,732 in 2016.

  • To safeguard subsistence lifestyles, a government act in 1980 gave the rural people priority in hunting and fishing on federal lands. There have been subsequent disputes between rural and urban Alaskans, due to claims of being discriminated against. It is difficult for wardens to enforce this.
  • Alaskan residents have benefited from oil revenue. In 1976 the Alaska Permanent Fund was established. At least 25% of all money earned from minerals goes into this fund. By 1980 oil revenues had allowed Alaska to abolish income taxes. Alaska is now the 4th richest US state.

Politics

The Arctic may have up to 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. In 2007, Russia put claims to the Arctic which has created tensions with other Arctic nations and territories, including Denmark (Greenland), Norway and Canada, as well as the USofA

 

(Image Sources: http://www.d.umn.edu/~hoef0049/pbpipeline.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pipeline/map/ http://nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/news/140319_alaska.html)

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