The Trans-Alaska pipeline which is one of the largest world’s pipelines could be in potential danger of thawing permafrost. This can lead to a possible oil spill affecting many remote and nearby landscapes.
“The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of the pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing several of the braces holding up the pipeline to twist and bend” reported NBC News.
Some officials pointed out that this is the first time that the pipeline has been destructed by “slope creep” created by thawing permafrost.
To tackle the menace, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of about 100 thermosyphons — tubes that suck heat out of the permafrost. This will help restrict the frozen slope from further depletion and keep it at its place, saving the pipeline in the process from further damage.
Alaska’s much of the land underneath possesses permafrost which is the frozen ground filled with carbon dioxide from years before.
It’s from the plants which died and got converted into carbon even before it could decompose. On a worldwide scale, permafrost is known to contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere today.
On 23 August 2017, Henry Fountain wrote in a New York Times report that Woods Hole Research Center has come with a study which shows that the thawing permafrost is the most urgent matter of concern that we should address.
This thawing of the ancient organic material will lead the microbes to convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which is the main cause of global warming. And now the impact could soon affect the pipelines as well.
Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks have been taking deep temperature measurements in permafrost soils since 1978.
They have been concerned with keeping a record of the permafrost soils that lie below the producing oilfields on the slope and along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System reported S & P Global.
Since the year the recording started, a continual increase has been observed in the temperature in the 65 feet foot depth. In 1978 the permafrost at 65 feet near Prudhoe Bay was 16.3 F. By 2018 it had warmed to 22.6 F said the report of S & P Global.
The warming has not yet impacted the oil and gas production on the slope but the companies have started making arrangements to avoid the coming hazard.
Seasonal temperatures and their handling arrangements have been made in addition to refrigeration units to keep the soil stable. But the problem may aggravate when the warming affects the nearby infrastructure including the Dalton Highway, the gravel road connecting the oil fields to interior Alaska.
In 2020, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in its application to install thermosyphons on the slope northwest of Fairbanks near the Dalton Highway in the central part of the state asserted their concern that the pipelines are in real dagger from the thawing permafrost.
They said, “The purpose of this project is to protect the integrity of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (mainline) from permafrost degradation.”
Michelle Egan, a spokeswoman for Alyeska, an association of oil companies that includes a subsidiary of Hilcorp Energy Co. and ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil, refused to comment upon the impact on the pipe and the phenomena of the thawing permafrost. She only said that this is something they had anticipated while establishing the pipeline.
This melting permafrost is also raising the danger of a potential oil spill which would have more hazardous consequences.