Fears for the safety of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline peaked when it became evident terrorists were looking for targets that would cause untold destruction and worldwide publicity. Perhaps the federal government should include funds for its security in the proposed 2003 budget.
The pipeline covers nearly 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, where oil is pumped aboard tankers. The pipe is 48 inches in diameter and about half an inch thick. In recent months, it sustained a gunshot. Repairs were made; oil continued to flow at about 5.5 miles per hour.
In the meantime, state officials are looking at increased pipeline security -- a huge undertaking given the length and remoteness of the line.
Officials should take note of another pipeline in a different part of the world where terrorism is an every-other-day event.
In 2001, the Cano Limon Pipeline in Colombia sustained 170 bomb explosions, a figure nearly double that of the previous year. The Cano Limon line is in the midst of a 38-year civil war. Occidental Petroleum Corp. workers don't work in a safe area. There are numerous security checkpoints. Security cameras and other security measures are prevalent. Workers' bags are searched. Electronic key cards require worker photographs and blood types.
Occidental has warned workers it cannot pay ransom in case of kidnapping. Workers have been murdered, and bombs have exploded outside Occidental's facilities.
But the oil industry is familiar with operating in areas of the world caught in civil war or amid random acts of terrorism, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Indonesia, West Africa and the Arab world also are areas rich in oil as well as strife.
In Colombia, the Cano Limon Pipeline reduced production by 19 million barrels, or 58 percent, in 2001. Added security will be the result.
President George W. Bush has proposed spending $98 million for Cano Limon pipeline protection. Protection is a way of life for the industry in Colombia. When Occidental moved equipment recently to a new drilling site, it was accompanied by an army convoy and complete air support. But the company continues to endure because oil is cheap to extract at $10 a barrel, the Journal reports.
The Colombia situation illustrates how many attacks a pipeline can take, and in Alaska that has been a concern in recent months. As big a concern is that Alaska cannot afford not to protect its pipeline, the lifeline for the state financially. But at the same time, it cannot afford to protect it, because the state already has a projected $1.1 billion budget deficit.
Perhaps President Bush might be prevailed upon to add Alaska to the list of pipelines he plans to protect, and ensure the safety of our own pipeline before that of other nations.
-- The Ketchikan Daily News
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