Alaska Pipeline - Alyeska - Physics
Alyeska Alaska Pipeline and Local Climate Effects
- The Alyeska Oil Pipeline must maintain the temperature of the
oil flowing through it at around 140°F, in order to keep the petroleum
viscosity low enough to flow easily.
- The pipeline is 800 miles long and four feet in diameter, so the
total surface area is quite large, around 1200 acres or two square miles.
- The outdoor temperature in winter can drop to -90°F, and the thermal
insulation applied to the pipeline was not very efficient 40 years ago,
and it is even worse today due to weather damage.
- This all results in amazing amounts of heat being given off
by that pipeline to the atmosphere. There does not appear to have been
any scientific studies regarding the climate effects of adding that
much heat to the weather patterns there.
The oil pipeline that was built across Alaska to bring crude oil
to refineries is certainly affecting the weather! At the time it was
designed and built, no one seemed seriously concerned about Global
Warming or weather pattern disturbances. But now that we are experiencing
many severe hurricanes and there are droughts and record heat in so many
places, it seems prudent that we now examine the atmospheric
environmental effects of the pipeline.
The designers definitely did a thorough job of researching and
protecting the wildlife in the region, and in keeping excessive
heat from going DOWNWARD and getting to the delicate permafrost in the soil.
(Because environmental activists made so much noise that they had to.)
They even installed thousands of "automatic refrigerators"
which remove heat from the soil whenever the air temperature is less
than the soil temperature, which was brilliant! However, there does
not seem to be any evidence at all that anyone considered effects
of heat radiated UPWARD, and therefore on the weather, either then or since.
In order to pump the crude oil through the pipeline, the oil needs
to be heated so it is less viscous and flows easier. Therefore,
the entire Alaska pipeline has always operated with the oil inside
at around 140°F, rather warm! This is in an environment where the
outdoor temperature can be as low as -90°F The surface of the pipeline is
covered by thermal insulation, but there is SO much surface area
and the temperature difference between the pipe and the air is
often so extreme, that huge amounts of heat are given off by the
pipeline. How much? Also, extremely little attention has been
paid to the condition of all that insulation, which has been
exposed to that very climate for nearly 40 years.
This is a standard and simple Engineering calculation. The total
heat loss is simply the product of the temp-differential times the
surface area divided by the R-factor of the insulation. The pipeline
is almost exactly 800 miles long, which is just over 4,200,000 feet
in length. The actual pipe is 48" (four feet) in diameter so its
circumference is 12.6 feet, so the total pipe surface area is just over
53 million square feet! In the dead of winter, the air temperature can get
down to 90°F below zero, so the temp-difference is then 230°F. And Aleyska
gives the thickness of the insulation but not its R-value. However,
from the thickness, good polyurethane insulation has an R-factor of
about R-18. (Assuming that they have maintained that 53 million square
feet of insulation during the past 40 years!)
So we have 53 million times 230 divided by 18 or 680,000,000 Btu/hr
of heat loss! That is as much heat that is used up and given off
by about 17,000 heated residential homes on the coldest night, a
It turns out that they do not have to use heaters or heating elements
to keep the oil hot. They use aircraft jet engines driving giant pumps,
which are so strong, and the viscosity of the oil is so bad,
that there is enough friction between the oil and the
pipeline to produce this heat completely by friction. Which means
that the total pumping work must approximately equal the heat loss
from the surface of the pipeline.
Note above that we took an extreme low temperature, and around
450,000,000 Btu/hr is a better average amount of heat given off by the
It is also true that only around half of the length is actually supported
on posts above ground. The other half is buried in the ground. However,
consider what has to happen to the heat given off by that buried
pipe. One way or another, it MUST eventually escape, which means
upward into the atmosphere. The totals calculated here might be slightly
off for the buried portion, but still must be fairly close.
There is a way that we can confirm this! Presently the oil flow is
reduced and only 9 of the 48 available giant pumps are operating.
The pumps are driven by modified jet aircraft engines! Each (Avon) jet
turbine produces 24,600 horsepower. The pump (reaction) turbines
are decently efficient and each produces 18,700 brake horsepower.
This data is all from Alyeska, the company that operates the pipeline.
OK. So 18,700 brake horsepower is added to the oil flow by each
of the nine operating pumps (in four of the twelve pumping stations),
or a total of a constant 168,300 horsepower. Each horsepower
is equivalent to 2544 Btu/hr of heat energy, so the pumps are
inserting about 428 million Btus of energy into the oil, PLUS
the heat that the oil starts off with as it comes out of the
wells at about 160°F. This seems to be in very good agreement
that the pipeline dissipates around 450,000,000 Btu/hr of heat to the
Those aircraft engines represent another heat source, as they continuously
run at full speed and they have the jet exhaust heat of all airliners.
It turns out that gas turbine engines are relatively efficient
(as compared to gasoline vehicle engines that are commonly around
21% overall thermal efficiency) at having around 32% thermal efficiency
at their operating speed. What this means is that 32% of the energy
in the fuel is used "productively" in turning the
shaft of the turbine. The other 68% is nearly all given off
as wasted heat, primarily in the jet exhaust. Now, each of
those jet engines creates 24,600 horsepower of useful output
(different than brake horsepower),
or 62.6 million Btu/hr. The nine of them that constantly are running
therefore create a total of 563 million Btu/hr of useful output, which
is that 32% figure of the total fuel energy. That means that the
other 68% which is given off as exhaust heat from those engines
represents 1200 million Btu/hr given into heating the atmosphere
(mostly in the exhaust gases of those jet engines).
We have a way to confirm this value, too. Alyeska says that the
pipeline system uses up 210,000 gallons/day of fuel oil (equivalent).
A gallon of fuel oil contains around 140,000 Btu of energy,
so this means that 29,400 million Btu/day of fuel are consumed,
which is 1225 million Btu/hour. Above we have calculated that the
jet exhausts plus the energy put into the oil total around 1700
million Btu/hour. Not a really tight confirmation, but an indication
that our reasoning and our calculations are generally valid.
This is therefore showing that the Alaska pipeline gives off and
the jet engine pump exhausts give off a CONSTANT amount of heat equal
to between 1200 and 1700 million Btu/hr, all going into heating
the air in the region. Again, this is equal to the heat given off
by around 50,000 standard residential homes!
The environment of Alaska does not really have any significant
natural heat sources. This probably has permitted the weather
patterns to become very stable and consistent over thousands of
years. But for the past 30 years, the Alaska pipeline has
been continuously been heating those atmospheric weather
patterns with this enormous amount of wasted heat! It seems
certain that there must be some really major environmental impacts.
However, I have not been able to find even a single study on
this issue. The location of Alaska and the pipeline are such that the
jetstream often passes right over that area, just before then moving
east across the United States and Canada. IF this added artificial heating
has the effect of disturbing or shifting the jetstream, which seems very
likely, then the operation of the Alaska pipeline might easily be greatly
affecting weather patterns over much of the United States and Canada!
And yet, no one seems to have even ever considered it!
It is difficult to quantify the effects on the atmosphere without a
long-term study or analysis of years of weather data in the region.
It is certainly easy to calculate that a BILLION cubic feet of air (per hour)
gets heated by 1°F with only around 18 million Btu/hr of heat. We are
talking about a hundred times that much heat being given off by the operating
pipeline! However, there is no easy way to determine just how much
the local atmosphere gets heated, because it tremendously depends on
winds. If the winds are blowing fast, an enormous amount of air
gets blown past the pipeline in an hour, which means that the air
temperature might hardly seem to be changed! Instead, on a dead
calm day, the air right near the pipeline (and those jet exhausts)
can get heated up quite a bit. However, in EITHER case, well
over 1000 million Btu/hr of heat is constantly added to the atmosphere
due to the operation of that pipeline. The amount of added heat
is so huge that it seems certain to be having some noticeable effects!
Potentially weather changes for America and even Europe.
Further scientific study seems called for. This seems especially
true now that President Bush has gotten his freedom to allow far more
prospecting for oil in Alaska. It may be VERY foolish to consider
building additional pipelines, and there may even be cause to
require Alyeska to install additional insulation on the existing
pipeline and to somehow use up some of the jet exhaust heat.
A very small part of that jet exhaust heat IS presently used,
primarily to drive electric generation stations at each of the pump
This presentation was first placed on the Internet in August 2005.
Energy-Related presentations in this Domain:
Self-Sufficiency - Many Suggestions A thorough presentation
Global Warming - The Physics of the Process. (June 2004, June 2008)
Global Warming and Climate Change - The Physics (June 2004, Feb. 2007)
Alternative GREEN Water Heater - Non-Fossil-Fueled HeatGreen - A Simple Water Heater, HG3a (biodecomposition) (March 2007)
Alternative GREEN Furnace with no Fire - Non-Fossil-Fueled HeatGreen - A Simple, Home Heating Furnace, HG3a (biodecomposition) (March 2007)
Solar Heating - Low-Tech Active System Low-tech, low cost approach (April 2007)
Heat and Cool a House Naturally, without a Furnace or Air Conditioner (1977, Nov. 2000)
Energy Supplies of the World - Petroleum, Coal, Gas, Uranium. Oil, Natural Gas, Uranium supplies and consumption (May 2010 Report)
Asphalt Pavement - Black Surfaces and Sunlight Environmental Effects of Asphalt Pavements, Roofs, and Parking Lots (August 2007)
Earth Spinning Energy - Perfect Energy Source From the Earth's Spinning (1990, Nov. 2002)
Earth's Spinning - Perfect Energy Source (1990, Dec. 2009)
Tornadoes - The Physics of How They Operate. Tornadoes, including How they Form. A potential energy source (Feb. 2000, May 2009)
Electricity - Unlimited Source of Solar by an Artificial Tornado. Tornadoes, including How they Form. A potential energy source (Feb. 2000, May 2009)
Survival Ark - 60-Acre Hexagonal Artificial Island, Floating Communities for Survival For Sealevel Rising (July 2008)
Electric Power Plants - Climate Effects
Global Warming Effects of Carbon Dioxide
Hydrogen as a Fuel for Vehicles. (August 2003)
Solar Heated House NorthWarm Totally 100% Solar Heated House - Version 1 (1979)
Solar Cells Photovoltaic Cells, PV, Electricity from Sunlight (Jan 2002)
200 mph, Safe, Self-Driving Cars, Trucks, Economical 200 mile per hour TRANS Super-Efficient Transportation System (invented in 1989)
Electric Cars, Hybrid Cars, the Physics Battery-Powered, Hybrid Cars and Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles (April 2006)
Wind Power, Wind Energy, Practical Windmills Practical Wind-Generated Electricity (Residential, some Watts) (1975 and April 1998)
Tower Windmills and Electricity, Modest Efficiency Practical Large-Scale Wind-Generated Electricity, 1200 KiloWatts (Community, a thousand homes) (a million construction jobs and 12,000 MegaWatts of electricity Nationally) (June 2007)
Earth Energy Flow Rates due to Precessional Effects (63,000 MegaWatts of Energy) (Sept 2006)
Power Plant Wastes - Productive Usage of Nuclear Waste. Productive Disposal of Nuclear Power Plant Wastes (1980s, Sept 2005)
Conserving Energy - Methods and Processes
Energy Storage - Methods - Efficiencies Various Methods
Solar Energy - How Much Energy Comes From the Sun
Sun and Stars - How the Sun Works - Nuclear Fusion. Creating Light and Heat
Energy Inventions - Many Forms of Energy Supplies. Related to Energy Crises
Solar Energy - Generating Electricity From solar, wind or other sources nearly 24 Hours a Day (2001, tested 2003)
Solar Energy - Generating Electricity, Improved A Unique Method of Using Solar Energy to Generate Electricity (late 2010)
Alaska Pipeline - Alyeska - Physics. Pipeline Local Climate Effects (August 2005)
Home Air Conditioning Natural, GREEN and FREE! (1978, December 2000)
Hybrid Vehicle - An Improvement. An Entirely Different Approach to a Hybrid Vehicle (1992, May 2008)
Woodburning Furnace - JUCA Fireplace, Woodstove - JUCA Super-Fireplaces (designed 1972, manufactured 1973 on, still not matched)
Burning Wood for Heating - The Physics. Wood as a Heating Fuel (published 1978)
North Pole is Heating Very Fast. Faster than anywhere else on Earth.
Global Warming and Climate - Possible Solutions
Aerodynamic Lift - How Airplanes Fly. Bernoulli Effect, Reaction Lift (April 2003)
Efficient Airfoil Flight - Active Surface - TURCAN. Greatly Reducing Turbulence and Drag for Aircraft and Airfoils, TURCAN (summer 1998)
Construction School for GREEN Technologies. My Concept of a GREEN Campus (1990, Dec 2008)
Conservation of Angular Momentum - An Exception or Violation. A Violation of the Conservation of Angular Momentum (Sept 2006)
Hurricanes, the Physics and Analysis A Credible Approach to Hurricane Reduction (Feb 2001)
Automotive Engine - A More Efficient Approach. Significant Improvement (2001)
Global Warming - The Politics and Business Why No Leaders Seem to See Urgency in Global Warming
Energy from the Moon - A Version of Tidal Energy Collection. (Artificial Tides) (1998, 2010)
Energy from the Moon - Version of Tidal Energy Collection 2. (Energy Harvesting) (1975, 2010)
Electricity from Solar, Wind, Water, More. Make All Your Own GREEN Electricity (2001, 2003, 2010)
Woodstove Energy Production and Efficiency, from a Radiant Woodstove (published 1979)
Firewood Ratings. Firewood Info Chart.
This page - -
- - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -
Link to the Public Services Home Page
Link to the Science Projects Index - Public Service
C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago