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What is TAPS?

TAPS is a pipeline system that transports crude oil from oil fields on Alaska's North Slope to the port of Valdez on Alaska's south coast, where it is loaded into oil tankers and shipped to refineries in other locations.

General Description of TAPS

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) consists of 800 miles of pipeline, 11 pump stations (7 are now operating), a terminal at Port Valdez, and associated facilities and systems. TAPS transports crude oil from Alaska's North Slope 800 miles south to Port Valdez in Prince William Sound. The northern portion of TAPS parallels the Dalton Highway (known locally as the "Haul Road"), which was completed as part of TAPS construction.

The pipeline transports crude oil produced in several oil fields on Alaska's North Slope. The largest of these is Prudhoe Bay; other fields include Kuparuk, Endicott, Milne Point, Pt. McIntyre, and most recently, Alpine. The pipeline system was built in 1974 - 1977 and has moved over 13 billion barrels of crude oil. The peak daily throughput of 2.03 million barrels per day was reached in 1988. The current rate is approximately 1 million barrels per day (2001).

Major Elements of TAPS

The Trans-Alaska pipeline is an 800-mile-long, 48-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline that is elevated above the ground for 420 miles of its length and buried for the other 380 miles. Eleven pump stations were built to move oil through the pipeline; four of them are now on standby. At more than 800 river and stream crossings, the pipe either bridges the waterways or is buried below them. At 13 locations, special bridges were built. For the 420 miles that the pipeline is above ground, it is supported on vertical support members (VSMs), located about every 60 feet. Valves are strategically placed along the pipeline to permit isolation of sections of the pipeline and minimize the volume of potential spills.

Pump Stations

The 11 pump stations are located at intervals of approximately 50 to 100 miles. TAPS was originally designed for 12 pump stations; Pump Station 11 was never built because the development of drag reducing agent (a chemical additive that makes oil flow through the pipeline more easily) reduced the need for pump stations. Pump Stations 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 12 are now operating. Pump Stations 2, 6, 8, and 10 were placed on standby in 1996 and 1997, while Pump Stations 7 and 12 may be placed on standby over the next 5 to 10 years.

Valdez Marine Terminal

The Valdez Marine Terminal is the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska pipeline and is located at the ice-free Port of Valdez on the northeastern shore of Prince William Sound. At the terminal, crude oil is loaded onto tankers for shipment to markets. Most of the oil has been shipped to the U.S. West Coast, with minor amounts shipped to the Far East. The terminal has storage facilities for 9.18 million barrels of crude oil and four loading berths. Berths 4 and 5 have vapor-control systems and will be the primary loading berths in the future. Berths 1 and 3 are not vapor-controlled but remain available for use in special situations. Their future use is under study.

Valdez Marine Terminal (VMT)
Photo VMT Photo #1
Photo VMT Photo #2
Photo VMT Layout

Other TAPS Elements

Other TAPS elements include airfields, roads, emergency and spill response systems, service vehicles and facilities, and control and communications systems.

Pipeline Design and Permafrost

About 75% of the pipeline corridor traverses permafrost. In areas of unstable soil, the pipeline is elevated above ground to keep the permafrost from melting. About 420 miles of the pipeline is elevated, and 380 miles is buried. In particular areas, small portions of the buried pipeline are refrigerated (total of 4 miles).

Pipeline Configuration

Above ground sections of the pipeline are built in a zig zag configuration to allow for expansion or contraction of the pipe because of temperature changes. The design also allows for pipeline movement caused by an earthquake (TAPS crosses three major active fault lines). An earthquake monitoring system provides ground motion detecting and warning capabilities for strong events.

Animal Crossings

About 554 elevated animal crossings were created to allow large animals to cross the pipeline without obstruction. At elevated animal crossings, pipeline height is at least 10 feet. At 23 other locations, the pipeline is buried to allow animals to cross; each buried crossing is about 200 ft. wide.

TAPS Facts

  • Pipeline diameter: 48 inches

  • Pipeline length: 800 miles
    • Buried - about 420 miles
    • Aboveground - about 380 miles in areas of permafrost
  • Width of the right of way:
    • 100 feet on state land
    • 54 feet for buried pipeline and 64 feet for elevated (aboveground) pipeline on federal land.
  • Elevation: 4738 feet (Atigun Pass) to sea level (Valdez)

  • Number of pump stations: 11 (7 operational)

  • Number of river and stream crossings: 34 major rivers, about 800 smaller streams

  • Number of mountain ranges crossed: 3 - Brooks Range, Alaska Range, Chugach Range
  • Amount of crude oil carried:
    • Capacity for more than 2 million barrels of oil through pipeline each day.
    • Currently (2001) transporting about 1 million barrels per day.
    • About 400 million barrels transported per year
    • More than 13 billion barrels total transported to date
    • More than 16,000 tankers loaded
  • Construction cost (in 1977 dollars): $8 billion

  • The TAPS right-of-way is owned by:
    1. Federal government: 375 miles
    2. State government: 344 miles
    3. Native allotments/corporations: 51 miles
    4. TAPS owners: 8 miles
    5. Other private: 22 miles

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