Thursday, January 19, 2006

Alaskan Pipeline Problems

Here's another thing to worry about:
It seems the designers of the Alaskan Pipeline which carries 11% of the United States' oil supply south from Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, through rugged and beautiful terrain, to Valdez, the northernmost ice-free port in North America.

Because crude oil is very viscous, the oil is heated to reduce the effort required to pump it the 800 miles down to Valdez. Since this part of Alaska has a significant permafrost layer, the pipeline had to be insulated and raised off the ground to avoid damaging the permafrost. The supports to hold the pipeline up did not have to have a firm footing since their legs would be sunk into the rock-solid permafrost layer of the Alaskan tundra and permafrost is, well permanent, right?

Well here's the rub: the permafrost is melting like lots of sea ice and glaciers due to global warming. As the permafrost softens, the pipeline support uprights will begin to shift. If these supports collapse completely, the pipeline could rupture, cutting off the flow of oil and damaging the ecology of the area.

Just thought you'd like to know.....

Found the pointer to this Wired article on Bruce Sterling's latest Viridian newsletter.

>JjV<

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