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The Alaska Pipeline
Timeline: Alaska Pipeline Chronology

1959 - 1972 | 1973 - 2005  

1959

Photograph of Dwight D. Eisenhower January 3: President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the official declaration making Alaska the 49th American state.

1966

October: Native leaders from across the state form the first statewide Native organization, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), to advocate for Alaska Native interests. From 1966 to 1971, AFN will be at the forefront of the political battle over native lands.

December: Interior Secretary Stewart Udall imposes a "land freeze." The freeze stops the federal government from giving the state of Alaska land titles as agreed under the Statehood Act. This gives Alaskan Natives time to settle outstanding claims. The federal government has already given out provisional titles to 12 million acres, including Prudhoe Bay, where oil companies will make their oil find.

1968

The Alaskan landscape March 13: Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon Company, U.S.A.) announce the discovery of a massive oil field in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's northernmost coast, in the frigid Arctic Circle. Geologists estimate the equivalent of nearly 10 billion barrels of crude oil is there in the ground. It is the largest oil field ever discovered in North America.

Oct 28: ARCO joins up with Humble Oil and British Petroleum Oil to form the Trans Alaska Pipeline Systems (TAPS). They enter into an "agreement for a planning study and for engineering design and construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline project."

November: Under direct orders from Governor Walter J. Hickel, Alaska's Department of Highways begins blazing a winter road just north of Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. The road will be abandoned one month after its completion in March 1969.

1969

February 10: TAPS announces plans to build a hot oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle to Valdez on Alaska's south coast. The original plan is to bury the pipe the whole way.

June 6: TAPS files for federal right-of-way permits. Seventy-five percent of all land in Alaska is still federally owned.

September 10: The lease for 179 parcels of land covering 640 acres of state-owned land in and around Prudhoe Bay is put up on the auction block. Alaska's coffers become richer by $900 million.

September 13: In preparation for the pipeline, $100 million worth of 48-inch steel pipes arrives in Valdez from Japan. These pipes will lay rusting for more than five years before they are put to use.

1970

March 5: Five native villages north of Fairbanks oppose the oil pipeline plan by filing suits against both the oil companies and the Department of Interior. In state court, the suit claims TAPS has failed to honor a previous agreement to hire Native contractors and laborers for the project. A second suit is filed against Walter J. Hickel, who is now President Richard Nixon's Interior Secretary, in federal district court. The suit demands the government forego any construction until Natives along the pipeline's route give consent.

March 26: Environmental groups including the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Defense Fund file their own suit, claiming the TAPS proposal violates both the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, which restricts the right of way to 50 feet (TAPS needs 100 feet), and the newly passed National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the study of the environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline and alternative ways of getting the oil to market.

April 3: In federal district court Judge George L. Hart issues a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Department of the Interior from issuing a construction permit for a road that crosses native land near Stevens Village.

April 13: Judge George L. Hart issues a preliminary injunction against the entire pipeline project. It is the first major test of the National Environmental Policy Act. After just two months of legal maneuvering, TAPS is stopped dead in its tracks.

April 24: Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel says he will issue a right-of-way permit for the construction of the pipeline when he can guarantee it will be built safely. Little does anyone realize that it will take more than three years to get authorization.

August 14: The owner oil companies create the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company to oversee the management and building of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Alyeska's first task is to get the pipeline project going again.

December: Government geologists release a document titled "Some Estimates of the Thermal Effects of a Heated Pipeline in Permafrost," which explains the damaging effects a hot oil pipeline would create in permafrost. Critics of the pipeline use the document to support their case.

1971

January 1: The Department of the Interior submits the first draft of an environmental impact statement. It is a scant 196 pages long, with an additional 60 pages of revised construction plans.

February: Public hearings are held in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage, Alaska, to discuss the environmental impact statement. By March, there will be more than 12,000 pages of testimony, the great majority of it critical of the pipeline.

President Richard M. Nixon December 18: President Richard Nixon signs into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. This new law gives Alaska Natives the right to select 44 million acres of land and a cash settlement of nearly $1 billion. Half of the money is to be paid from oil production royalties.

1972

March 20: The Department of the Interior releases the final environmental impact statement. The original 256-page document has now ballooned to a nine-volume comprehensive study on both the environmental and economic impact the pipeline will have. The release is followed by a 45-day review period in which environmental groups go over the impact study before any decisions are made.

May 11: A new Interior Secretary, Rogers C. B. Morton, grants the right-of-way permits for the Trans-Alaska pipeline. He promises that construction will be strictly monitored to protect the Alaskan environment. The only thing standing in way of the pipeline is Judge Hart's preliminary injunctions.

August 15: Judge Hart calls the environmentalists back to court. He rules in favor of the defendants: the Department of the Interior, Alyeska and the state of Alaska. In Hart's opinion, the pro-pipeline coalition has now met all the legal requirements. The preliminary injunction is dissolved. The environmentalists appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

1959 - 1972 | 1973 - 2005  

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