Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline
The impact of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline on Alaska's economic and social conditions has been enormous and is on many visitors' must-see list. Slightly less than half of the pipeline is buried underground, although the remaining pipe covers 800 miles above ground, winding from the Arctic region of Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez. The pipeline can be viewed from several popular destinations in Alaska, and can be easily added on to an itinerary when planning to explore those areas.
Incredibly enough, the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline has transported more than 13 billion barrels of oil from the North Slope to the port of Valdez in Prince William Sound since its completion in 1977. The oil moves at a rate of 5.5 miles per hour pumping through the pipeline, crossing three mountain passes, rivers and streams until it arrives at cargo tankers in the port of Valdez six days later.
Astronauts say they can see it from space, and while visitors can also see it from a plane on a flightseeing tour, you don't have to go that far to view the pipeline. A trip to Valdez allows the best views of the pipeline as it snakes its way down to the marine terminal. The Valdez Museum is packed with displays that include a model of the trans-Alaska pipeline, a 19th century saloon bar, an exhibit on glaciers that usually includes a cooler full of ice from the Columbia Glacier and a photo display on Valdez.
In the Interior, a pipeline viewing area is located just minutes away from Fairbanks along the Steese Highway, near Glenallen. Delta Junction offers the first view of the trans-Alaska pipeline when coming up the Alaska Highway from Canada. The best view is about nine miles north of town, where the pipeline crosses the Tanana River. Visit the Delta Junction Visitor Center for historical displays and don't miss out on one of Delta Junction's many historic roadhouses. Sullivan Roadhouse, relocated across from the visitor center, was originally built in 1905. It is one of the last remaining original roadhouses from the Valdez to Fairbanks Trail and today houses a museum of interior pioneer artifacts. Located about eight miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway, the Fox Visitors Center also offers souvenirs, complete with factual details about the pipeline.
Several tour agencies out of Fairbanks, Anchorage and in Deadhorse offer excursions to the Arctic Ocean as well as tours of the Prudhoe Bay oil facility, where all the oil comes from. Starting from Fairbanks travel along the 424-mile Dalton Highway providing clear views of the trans-Alaska pipeline from the road. While the road does have wildlife and recreational opportunities, this mostly gravel road is one of Alaska's most remote and challenging.
Want to learn more about where to view the trans-Alaska pipeline? Read our travel tips.
For more information take a look at our Alaska history and culture pages.