Day 6 & 7

 

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(Day 6 and 7 are combined because they belong combined)

 

The end of the road.

In winter this is an astoundingly barren place. There may hav been life underneath the snow but no one would want to stay outside for long enough to find out. There are postcards that show green grass in Deadhorse, the idea of flora thriving here astounds me. After you cross the Brooks Range you're in the North Slope. North Slope is an apt name for the place, first , it's frankly descriptive, the land slopes down to the Artic Ocean. Second, the practicality of the name is befitting this place were there is no room for the impractical (obviously that's an exaggeration since we were there). I don't remember the third name.

I had expected the air to stink of oil, to see pitchers of crude traded for girlie-magazines at the store, to see gushers of black dotting the horizon.  There was no taste, touch, or smell of oil to be found.  Here standing on top of the biggest oil deposit in North America we had to buy gas that had already been the length of the Alaska pipeline to find a refinery then be trucked back here.

This morning we woke in Fairbanks after a late night in the bar learning the secrets of rallying from some of the more knowledgeable (and drunk) rally drivers and navigators. The whole story of the day is the Dalton Highway, more commonly known as the haul road by the people who haul on it. Most of the haul road was built along with the pipeline and it runs 414 miles from the Elliot Highway to Prudhoe Bay, more commonly known as Deadhorse by the people who work here. It isn't paved but that doesn't matter since it's covered in packed snow and ice. Most of the time the road follows the pipeline closely. The haul road is probably the most serious highway in the us. Since it's mostly a work road it's not adorned by many warning signs, guard rails, or nicely graded hills. During the winter there is gas at Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Coldfoot is 250 miles from Deadhorse and 280 miles from Fairbanks. Many of the rally cars hav fuel ranges in the 250-280 mile range and a few of us had to replenish from gas cans hauled in one of the big support pickups. Where the Artic Circle crosses the haul road this is a lovely...(text ends due to snowblindness?)

Only 25 people live here in Deadhorse year-round. The other 2500 people only work here and they stay in places like the Artic Oilfield Hotel or oil company dorms.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are included with your $85/night room rate. $85may seem like a lot for a dormitory style dive but remember this is one of the more remote places in N. America.

The hotel is the most bizarre scene you could imagine. Utility is the main word to describe this hotel. So much so that "hotel" doesn't really fit it. It's more like a dorm or barracks. The Arctic Oil Field Inn is a number of buildings that are collections of modular units piled on huge frames with wheels. If provoked the whole place could roll right away. The units were built to house workers when the pipeline was being built and when the pipeline was finished they were plunked down in Deadhorse. The rooms don't hav locks, bathrooms, phones, TVs, or anything unnecessary. The common rooms hav everything an oil-field worker needs for an extended stay or just a few weeks. The whole place can be described as 'guy heaven' --  what your fraternity house would hav been like in paradise. Two exceptions: Deadhorse is a dry town and the women didn't quite look like sorority girls.

Oliktok Pt. (70degrees 28.88'N 149degrees 51.85'W)

The next morning breakfast was laid out in the mess hall plus lunch making were available to pack your sack lunch. After picking up safety goggles and lining up the cars behind BP Security we were ready for our tour of the oil fields. We entered at the West checkpoint which is BP controlled) and continued to the Arco controlled area and the Kuparuk oil field.

During the tour we noticed that all of the living quarters and office space were modular units not unlike our hotel the night before. We saw trucks carrying wide-loads of these modules out on the oil field and then for the rest of the day back down the haul road we were ducking around them on the narrow road.

How long will we be able to harvest oil from the North Slope: There's more oil here than your grandchildren's grandchildren can use. How thick is the pipe used in the pipeline: 15/16 inches steel. Then there are many inches of thermal insulation with an outer skin. The insulation is to keep the hot oil from causing thermal contamination around the pipeline or melting the permafrost. What temp does the oil flow at: oh, about 150F. In the north slope fields the oil comes out of the ground hot and gets even hotter through some processes they use to remove some impurities before shoving in into the pipe, also friction of the oil against the pipe walls causes heat. What are the pumping stations: stations built along the pipeline primarily to keep the pressure up in the pipe. There are 11 pumping stations spread along the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to outside Valdez (except the last one was never built).

 

 

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