Living on the Other Side of Alaska, The Way it was Once Upon a Time

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The Valdez Marine Terminal, the southern end of the pipeline, was planned for a site across the Port Valdez fjord from Valdez proper. The terminal itself was designed to be built with four tanker berths and space for a fifth, should it become necessary.

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Holding tanks were planned that had a capacity equal to that of the pipeline, allowing the whole pipeline to be emptied if required. This system removes oil from tankers' ballast water so it is not released into Prince William Sound —something fishermen feared when the pipeline was proposed. Shortly after the permit was signed, convoys of equipment on snow tractors began heading north, using hardened snow roads and an ice bridge over the Yukon River to reach the seven construction camps that had been dormant since In February, as the ice bridge and snow road were carrying tracked vehicles north, Alyeska awarded a contract to design the construction and maintenance road.

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The remaining third was paid by Alyeska, and the bridge was built by Manson-Osberg-Ghemm. Construction of the Dalton Highway started on April 29, and at the peak of the effort, Alyeska and the four subcontractors had more than 3, workers deployed from the Yukon River to Prudhoe Bay. Final grading had to be done and more than 20 small permanent bridges had to be built, but by November, the road was open to traffic crossing the Yukon River on another ice bridge. To supervise the construction of the pipeline, Alyeska appointed two construction management contractors to oversee all the other subcontractors in the project.

Bechtel Corporation , from San Francisco, was named the management contractor for the pipeline itself. Neither of those two companies actually did the construction work.

That job was handed off to a series of subcontractors, each of whom had responsibility on one or two of six sections of the pipeline seven, if the marine terminal is included. Bidding on the subcontracting jobs opened at the end of March, and the contracts were announced on June 12, The contract for this section was given to H.

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Price, a group formed by H. The group also was one of the main contractors for construction of the Dalton Highway. Zachry Company. In Valdez, where Fluor had supervision, the work also was divided among several contractors. Site preparation work was done by Morrison-Knudsen. When the contracts were announced, Alyeska already had 12 pipeline construction camps either built or under construction.

Alyeska planned for 29 construction camps, [22] but 31 were created. The camps were built on thick beds of gravel laid down to insulate the underlying permafrost and to prevent pollution. At the conclusion of the construction project, the gravel was removed, theoretically removing oil leaks and other pollution with it.

The standardized structures could house 28 people, and two typically were bolted together to create two "wings". All were one-story, except at Valdez and at the pump station camps, where modules were laid atop one another because of space concerns. The camps housed from people at each pump station to 3, people at Valdez.

Overall construction headquarters was at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, where Alyeska leased land and buildings from the U. Vacant barracks were converted into housing, and vacant offices were given to oil workers. As air traffic increased, Alyeska arranged for the use of Fort Wainwright's airfield to relieve the burden on Fairbanks International Airport.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was built entirely with unionized labor.

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Because construction was slumping in the United States at large, the pipeline drew workers from across the country. These workers had to follow a strict hiring process based on union seniority and the labor that was needed. Priority was given to hiring Alaska residents and Alaska Natives, [28] and no strikes were permitted by a labor agreement between Alyeska and the unions.

These factors often led to more people being assigned to a job than there was work to do in an attempt to make up time lost to weather delays. Fourteen to 19 percent of the workers were minorities, and 5 to 10 percent were women. The welders who worked on the pipeline itself came from Pipeliners Local out of Tulsa, Oklahoma , which specialize in providing welders for large-scale pipeline projects.

Construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System

If a welder failed any of the test welds, he was not hired and was not allowed to try again for several weeks. Most ers were characterized by a Southern accent, cowboy boots , and unique welder's hats. An example of their attitude was how they dealt with the situation regarding lunch, in late Alyeska had said they would provide hot lunches wherever possible, and in reality this ended up being whoever was working closest to the camps, while those working further away carried bagged lunches to their worksite.

After complaints of how this was unfair since certain unions were far more favored than others by this policy , Alyeska decided that no one would get hot lunches. But then the welders from starting cooking their own lunches against camp rules using steaks taken from the kitchen freezers on makeshift grills whose burners were their acetylene torches.

In some instances, Alaska State Troopers had to be flown to pipeline camps in order to break up small riots. The Teamsters Union was by far the largest and most notable contributor of workers to the pipeline project. Teamsters worked in the transportation and supply aspects of the project. All trucks were driven by Teamsters, supply warehouses were run by Teamsters, and the buses that transported workers from camps to job sites were run by Teamsters. The Teamsters' control of tools and equipment in warehouses they ran led to conflicts with other workers. In a few instances, Teamsters were assaulted by workers from other unions.

Although they were forbidden from striking, they were allowed to halt work for safety meetings, and this excuse was used on a handful of occasions. After his attempts to get Alyeska to upgrade the road were rebuffed, Teamster leader Jesse Carr stopped all truck traffic in the state for four days of safety meetings. Alyeska and the state promised upgrades to the road, and the traffic resumed. The International Union of Operating Engineers called Operators for short represented the men and women who sat at the controls of the heavy equipment used on the construction of the pipeline.

Because most of the heavy equipment was unheated, six operators were typically assigned to each piece of equipment, allowing for frequent breaks. A popular joke on the pipeline was that the sole qualification to be an Operator was, "Must be able to sit on a sideboom at 40 below and not freeze up. The Laborers International Union represented the bulk of the less-skilled labor on the project.


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Laborers, as they were commonly known, did most of the odd jobs on the project: digging trenches in areas inaccessible by heavy equipment, drilling holes for the pipeline's Vertical Support Members, spreading gravel, crushing rock, and moving supplies by hand. Because the Laborers had more applicants than jobs available, the process for getting a job on the pipeline through Laborers Local was a multi-tiered process.

There were multiple levels of eligibility, based on the amount of seniority a person had. A-level members had the first pick of jobs, but they had to have worked at least hours with the union in the previous year.

B-level members had to have worked between and hours with the union. C-level members had to have at least two years of experience outside of Alaska or be an Alaska resident for at least one year. D-level was for everyone else, and D-level people rarely got jobs. At 11 a. Life during the pipeline construction project was characterized by long hours, poor conditions, and limited entertainment compensated by excellent benefits and pay. Each worker was handed a small booklet of 23 camp rules, [60] but the rules including no alcohol or smoking were frequently broken [61] and became the target of ribald humor.

Within the living quarters, the atmosphere resembled that of a college dormitory. Television broadcasts were delayed two days because of the need to fly tapes from California, [63] and most workers had to develop their own forms of entertainment. In the winter, some took to skiing or sightseeing; in the summer, some went hiking. In the first years of the project, workers were regularly treated to prime rib, steak dinners, and other exotic fare due to a cost-plus contract between the food preparers and the subcontractors.

The highway construction was charged to the federal and state governments and was supposed to be cost plus. There were no more steak nights one to two times a week and the Australian rock lobster tails disappeared. With workweeks averaging between 70 and 84 hours per week, the problem for many workers became what to do with so much extra money. This process was repeated a few miles south, where the pipeline crossed the Little Tonsina River.

In , the first year of pipelaying, Alyeska set a goal of completing 45 percent of the mile route. Work on the pumping stations and the Valdez Marine Terminal, which had begun in the fall of , also was expected to take longer than laying pipe. Conversely, work on those two projects could proceed during the winter, when pipelaying could not take place due to the frozen ground. Laying pipe took several stages.

First, the right of way had to be cleared with chainsaws, bulldozers, and scrapers who followed the rough route laid out by the initial surveyors. These crews were followed by another group of surveyors and engineers who determined whether the pipeline could be laid in the planned spot, or if it had to be moved because of permafrost, soft ground, or other considerations.

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State and federal surveillance officers, working with the engineers, could give the OK to move the path of the pipeline as much as feet to the right or left in order to avoid obstacles. After the path was finalized came the augers and drillers for the holes that served as foundations for the Vertical Support Members that held up the pipe.

These holes were drilled and filled with a mix of water, gravel and dirt before a VSM was dropped into each hole. Because of the frozen ground, the gravel and dirt froze as hard as concrete, sealing the VSMs in place.

Empire of Ice: Life on an Arctic Oil Rig

The VSMs were laid in parallel, two at a time, and each had a semicircular rest for the pipeline segments. These were carried in foot or foot segments by crane or sideboom to the appropriate location, lowered into place, then welded together. The welds were then inspected via X-ray by quality control engineers who followed the welders.

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