Environmental groups ask feds to reconsider the trans-Alaska pipeline and plan for its removal

the trans-Alaska pipeline
A stretch of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System near the Toolik Field Station in the North Slope Borough. (Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

A coalition of environmental groups has filed a legal petition with the federal government to reconsider how the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System contributes to climate change and to begin phasing the 800-mile line out of existence.

The government first authorized the pipeline right-of-way across federal land in the 1970s, sparking an economic boom that transformed the state. The government reauthorized the pipeline in 2002. But a lot of new information about climate change has come to light in the past two decades that merits a reconsideration, the groups say.

“The federal government has a lot of both responsibility and authority to address the climate crisis, and that’s what we’re asking that they do,” Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, said in a phone interview.

The other groups making the petition are Center for Biological Diversity, Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

They’re asking the Department of Interior to begin scoping a new environmental analysis for the pipeline, which isn’t due for a renewal until 2034, and to draft a plan to dismantle the pipeline and restore the land corridor.

The pipeline has transported 18 billion barrels of North Slope crude since 1977. Brown said the earlier studies of the pipeline didn’t consider the greenhouse gas emissions that resulted once the oil was refined into fuel and burned.

“There’s a lot that we need to be doing, and this is one of the tools in the toolbox to look at the impacts, figure out remedial actions and start a phasedown so that we can transition the state off of fossil fuels,” said.

Brown is a former director of the state’s Division of Oil and Gas. In the 1980s, she supervised leasing and development of North Slope oilfields. She says little was known then about what was driving climate change.

“I’ve changed my perspective a great deal over the years on the need for — the necessity of getting off fossil fuels,” she said.

The petition also says that thawing permafrost is undermining the integrity of the pipeline, which the government should evaluate.

The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. issued a written response saying the pipeline is in excellent operational condition. The company says it ensures safety by monitoring, maintaining and modifying the infrastructure in an unending cycle.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy responded with derision on social media. He called the petitioners “nuts” and accused them of wanting to destroy Alaska more than they want to protect the environment.

Brown said Alaska could be rich with renewable energy, but the transition has to begin soon.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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