Amazing Facts About the Oil Fields
To get a clear understanding of what we shall present in later chapters, we need to have a clear picture of the oil fields themselves and of the working arrangements with the oil companies.
Alaska is a huge state. It is one fourth the size of the entire lower 48 states. We Alaskans refer to the lower 48 as the original 48 states, and we also refer to it as "The Outside." If you took a picture of the State of Alaska and superimposed it over a picture of the lower 48 states in proportionate size, the State of Maine in the northeast corner of the United States would be in the northeast corner of Alaska and the State of Texas—and everybody knows where Texas is (just ask a Texan!) would be on the southeastern coast of the State of Alaska. Alaska is the largest state in the United States, yet 60% of the population of Alaska is in the one city of Anchorage.
Alaska has three major mountain ranges; the Rockies, the Kuskokwin, and the Brooks Mountains. As you travel northward over each mountain range, there is a climatic change. The southeastern coast of Alaska is known as the Osh Kosh, and this area of Alaska is very mild in winter. The Japanese current which warms Washington and Oregon also keeps this area of Alaska mild. Immediately after crossing the Rocky Mountains into the first interior area of Alaska the winters become severe, going to 50° and 60° below zero. After crossing the second mountain range you come to the Arctic Circle area. The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line around the face of the earth, north of which there is at least one day per year when you have 24 hours of sunlight and another day when the sun never appears above the horizon.
Just north of the Arctic Circle are the Brooks Mountains, and north of the Brooks Mountains is the area to which we are referring in this book as the North Slope of Alaska. This North Slope is a vast Arctic plain, many hundreds of square miles. Generally speaking, it is a flat and very desolate land where there are no trees. The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline transverses the entire North Slope from north to south.
When we refer to Prudhoe Bay in this book, we are referring to the area from which the oil companies are presently producing oil. The North Slope is the entire area north of the Brooks Mountains; Prudhoe Bay is a very small spot in this vast area. Prudhoe Bay is located adjacent to the Arctic Ocean, and the Prudhoe Bay Field is developed under the auspices of two major oil companies. Atlantic Richfield was responsible for the developing of the entire east side of the oil field at Prudhoe Bay. B. P. Oil Company, which is a British company, under the authorization of Sohio (which is an American company), developed the entire west side of the oil field.
There were seven other oil companies participating in the development of this field, under the auspices of these two companies.
Remember at this point that Alyeska was a company formed by a consortium of nine major oil companies of America for the express purpose of constructing and maintaining the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. The Alaska Pipeline is the biggest and most expensive project ever undertaken by private enterprise in the history of the world.
When the oil companies began to develop the pipeline route north of the Brooks Mountains, there were no people, no roads, and no towns. There was nothing but a vast Arctic wilderness. This is especially relevant to the problems forced on the oil companies by the Federal and State officials in regard to the whole matter of ecology and environmental protection.
At tremendous cost to the oil companies, entire self-contained cities were flown in by Hercules aircraft and then constructed to house three to five thousand workers each. As there were no people, no roads, and no airstrips, the huge Hercules aircraft landed on frozen lakes in the winter time. The equipment was assembled, gravel pads were built, and the housing units and all life support systems were constructed on the gravel pads. Everything was brought together right there—all electrical systems, water systems, sewage systems—everything had to be constructed on the actual sites.
Hercules aircraft are huge four-engine turbo-prop aircraft, capable of carrying tremendous loads. The entire rear section of the aircraft opens and very large objects can be placed inside. In fact, the Hercules was designed by the military during the last World War for the purpose of driving tanks and other military craft directly on board. Again, as we proceed, we shall see that these huge aircraft were at times used in ways that can be best described as frivolous, adding huge costs to the oil company expenses, and ultimately adding to the price that you and I, the consumers, will be paying at the gas tank.
In 1974, the cost to the oil companies of one Hercules was $1,200 per hour to rent. Remember, not one penny of government money was used for construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. It was entirely financed by private enterprise.
Animals north of the Brooks Mountains on the pipeline corridor had never seen human beings. The caribou, bear, and Arctic wolves had never seen man and had no fear of man. Almost every day you would see a survey team sitting in one of the few trees while a bear went by.
North of the Brooks Mountains the ground is known as permafrost, because it is perpetually frozen all year round. In the area of Prudhoe Bay the ground is frozen for 1,900 to 2,100 feet down from the surface. Yet to the depth at which the oil is produced, which is approximately 8,700 feet, the oil will come out of the ground at 135 °F.
Most oil fields in the lower 48 states have to be pumped from the time of their original production, and we are often told that this is a major reason why America imports oil from such places as Saudi Arabia. The argument is that because the Arabian oil is so readily available and so much easier to bring to the surface, it is ultimately less expensive to import the oil than to take it from our own ground. However, that is not the case at Prudhoe Bay; indeed it is not the case on the entire North Slope of Alaska. After 20 years of production at natural artesian pressure, the oil companies will inject treated water into the pool of oil, and then they can continue production at natural artesian pressure for many years to come.
One of the leading news magazines recently stated that the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field will run out of oil within five years. This is totally contrary to all technical data that I saw. In fact, the Prudhoe Bay Field will produce well over 20 years without any artificial methods, and then for many years to come at a rate of approximately 2 million barrels of oil every 24 hours. We stress that this is oil available from only one pool of oil; keep in mind that there are many, many proven pools of oil on the North Slope of Alaska. At the end of this book we will tell of one field that has already been drilled into, tested, and proven. Yet the Federal government ordered that no oil be produced from that new-found field. We shall elaborate on this in detail later.
There is an interesting point to mention in passing. Though the ground is frozen for 1,900 feet down from the surface at Prudhoe Bay, everywhere the oil companies drilled around this area they discovered an ancient tropical forest. It was in a frozen state, not in petrified state. It is between 1,100 and 1,700 feet down. There are palm trees, pine trees, and tropical foliage in great profusion. In fact, they found them lapped all over each other, just as though they had fallen in that position.
What great catastrophe caused this massive upheaval, and then led to such dramatic changes in the climate? We stress again that everything is frozen—not petrified—and that the whole area has never once thawed since that great catastrophe took place. So what could possibly cause these dramatic happenings? Most Bible scholars would come to one of two conclusions. Some would argue that it is tied in some way to a great ice age which they believe occurred between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, when many events took place that are not thoroughly understood. Others would point to the catastrophic effects (and after effects) of the Biblical flood of Noah as the case, suggesting that this is evidence of a sudden overtaking by the flood waters and sediments. The breaking up of a great canopy of water that once surrounded the earth, as well as the breaking up of the great "fountains of the deep" referred to in Genesis, could easily account for the tremendous volume of water that since then encompasses the globe. It is believed that the resulting atmospheric and geologic changes were the cause of the drastic changes in climate.
It is interesting to notice that tropical ferns have also been found at the Antarctic, and the evidence from these two areas, considered together, certainly suggests that there has been a dramatic change from a worldwide tropical climate to an Arctic climate within datable times.
It is also interesting to remember that the great Arctic explorer, Admiral Byrd, reported seeing tropical growth in near Arctic regions. Most write this off as being some sort of a mirage, or maybe even an hallucination, but perhaps we have to reconsider. Just as there can be a beautiful grand oasis in the middle of the desert of Egypt (such as the Fayum Region), perhaps there have been oases in this other kind of vast expanse in the Arctic Ocean area, where these subterranean tropical plants are (for some as yet unknown reason) still growing on the surface.
The finding of underground tropical growth is not hearsay, for I have personally watched these palm trees and other types of tropical plants being brought to the surface. Let me give you two examples. One day I watched as a pine cone was brought up from a well (although not considered tropical, they apparently grew together in historic times), and when we first saw it, it looked just exactly as it would look on a young pine tree today. It was closed, and we put it in an office on the premises of Atlantic Richfield. We simply put it on the desk and left it. The next day we came back and the pine cone had opened up. You could quite clearly see the seeds on the inside of the cone. This was obviously after thousands of years of being in a frozen state, hundreds of feet beneath the surface.
I personally have
palm fronds in my home which were brought up from some 1,700 feet below
the surface. Again I would like to make an observation, without necessarily
giving an opinion, because I do not regard myself as expert in this
area. I simply want to state that consistently this tropical forest
was between 1,100 and 1,700 feet beneath the surface. The actual base
of the perpetually frozen ground is approximately 200 feet
below the depth of the frozen tropical forest. The oil is found at a
depth of 8,700 feet, average, and it is amazing to realize that it comes
from that depth
I want to tell you a second incident that you will find hard to believe. As it cannot be documented, it might not be true, but I shall simply report it as it was told to me. One day I actually watched an operation proceeding at Pump Station 3, but did not take any special interest. After all, proceedings were going on all the time. However, on this particular day a man whom I personally know to be very reliable came to me and said something like this: "Chaplain, you won't believe this, but we were digging in this gravel pit on the Sag River, quite a number of feet under the surface depth. We brought to the surface what looked like a big Louisiana bull frog. We brought it into the building and allowed it to thaw out."
As I say, what was
then told to me is hard to believe. However, let me point out that the
frog is a cold-blooded mammal, and that in the winter season it does
go into a virtual state of deep freeze much like the hibernation associated
with bears and other Arctic animals.
This his man described the way in which the frog was left there and then thawed out. He claimed they actually watched as it totally thawed, and that it then quite perceptibly moved—in fact it appeared to be alive, with those perceptible movements taking place for several minutes. Then the movement ceased, and the men threw the frog away. Of course, it would have been better if they had kept it and had the story both witnessed and properly authenticated. Nevertheless, I mention it as an incident that was accepted by others as actually taking place. I have no reason to doubt it.
This then is the setting for the North Slope of Alaska. It is a land of extremes, and that is well-illustrated by its temperature. At Prudhoe Bay I have seen it go, with the chill factor, as low as -130°F (130 degrees below zero). I have also seen it go higher than 90°F in the summertime (this being above zero and quite hot, of course). It is a beautiful land—a land that I have learned to love. In fact, during the months of July and August, the area of Prudhoe Bay is one of the most fabulously beautiful areas of the world. It looks like one great vast golf course, stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
Anyone for golf?