Trans-Alaska Pipeline: Gaping Climate Blind Spot
No Federal Assessments of Climate Change Impacts Upon or From Pipeline
Washington, DC —The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a critical component of America’s fossil fuel infrastructure, yet in the last 20 years, the federal government has not analyzed the massive system’s impact on climate change or how climate change affects or will affect its maintenance costs, reliability, or ecological footprint, according to records obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The result is a gaping hole in national climate planning that PEER is asking the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to address.
At 800 miles long, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is one of the world’s largest pipeline systems, transporting about 4% of the nation’s crude oil supply from the North Slope to market at Prudhoe Bay. It has operated for more than 45 years. In that time, the TAPS has undergone only two environmental assessments: the pre-construction Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 1972 and the Reauthorization EIS in 2002. A lot has changed since then.
Recently, PEER sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concerning its management of the TAPS. BLM oversees the Federal Agreement and Grants of Right-of-Way to ensure regulatory compliance. In response to our FOIA request, BLM informed us of the following:
- BLM is “not aware of any assessments concerning climate change” relating to increased maintenance costs or threats to TAPS operation.
- BLM is not able to identify a single planning document outlining potential steps to mitigate or prevent climate-related impacts over the system’s projected future lifetime.
- BLM “has not discussed or estimated the climate impact of TAPS” either internally or “with the owner companies.” In addition, “There have been no decisions since 2002 concerning a new or supplemental EIS for the TAPS ROW [Right-of-Way].”
“America’s climate planning apparently stops at the Canadian border,” remarked Rick Steiner, an ecologist, former University of Alaska-Fairbanks professor, and Chair of PEER’s Board of Directors, noting that TAPS is responsible for more than 8 billion tons of CO2 emissions. “Climate change is seriously impacting the safety and integrity of TAPS even as TAPS is significantly impacting global climate change. It is astonishing the federal government has yet to consider these critical issues and we urge the Biden administration to remedy this oversight.”
At the same time, the White House CEQ is pushing reforms to regulations governing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the principal eco-planning law, to require federal agencies to more fully account for the climate impacts of their decisions.
Today, PEER sent a letter to the CEQ Brenda Mallory requesting intervention to jump-start the moribund BLM NEPA review process for the TAPS.
“A coherent national climate plan cannot exclude consideration of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that the TAPS system will be the means for new Alaskan crude oil supplies to reach market. “In order to understand America’s climate complexion, we need to start paying critical attention to how much longer TAPS will operate, as well as what type and how much Alaskan oil crude it will carry.”