The Pipeline Link: UAF’s Prudhoe Bay Connection

By Kaitlin Johnson

Sun Star Contributor

“The oil industry is like the locomotive for Alaska economy,” said Terrence Cole, Director of UAF’s Office of Public History.

According to Cole, money from petroleum allowed the state to abolish income tax and actually pay dividends to Alaskans.  Over 80 percent of Alaska’s revenue stems from the oil industry. Cole has discussed the economic impact oil has had on the state in a variety of publications, including the New York Times.

“We have made more money from oil than the revenues of all the other natural resources – all the gold, and the furs and the fish, everything from the history of our state – combined,” he said.

Because UAF is a public university, a large percentage of its funding comes indirectly from the oil industry. But the relationship between the two goes deeper.

“In a partnership, you give and receive between parties. And we have a real two-way relationship with the university,” said Lynda Sather, Corporate Communications Director for the Alyeska Pipeline.

UAF and the pipeline complement one another in multiple ways.

Alyeska Pipeline offers several scholarships to students, as well as donates equipment and sponsors UAF’s Science for Alaska Series.

Many UAF graduates, including Sather, become pipeline employees. Alyeska Pipeline hires students from a variety of backgrounds; everything from engineering to public communication.

In turn, the university provides pipeline employees with a cultural outlet, Sather said.

“The arts and culture it brings to Fairbanks are incredible. I don’t know if I would have stayed in the state if it wasn’t for the university.”

Sather said the pipeline also benefits from the close proximity of UAF’s researchers. The university’s research projects and capacity impact them, and conversely, the pipeline inspires research.

“The Pipeline is a great source of questions. And one thing universities thrive on is answering questions,” Cole said. “It attracts the people who want to explore questions; like how do we construct on permafrost, and what are the impacts of doing this?”

The impacts of oil on both the university and the state are many and varied. The Alaska Historical Society Conference dedicated an entire series to exploring its role in state history. However, as there are currently no new sources of oil being developed, it’s the future that has people concerned.

UAF grad student Shana Loshbaugh paralleled Prudhoe Bay to the Kenai Peninsula’s oil industry during her presentation at the conference. The peninsula was made by its oil boom, which peaked in 1970, she said.  After the peninsula’s oil fields were demobilized the area’s economy suffered.

“This is really a harbinger of what will happen to the state as a whole,” she said.  “This is a big issue that affected the peninsula first.”

Oil is not a renewable resource, said Cole. The pipeline is 30 years old and once that oil runs out, we’ll have to either develop more oil fields or find something to replace its role in the economy.

“An oil dollar is a one-time-only dollar,” he said.  “Once you pump it and use it, it’s gone.”

Future development is a complex issue, said Sather. Alyeska Pipeline will continue to measure its options and plans to hold a public forum discussing them Dec. 7.

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