The 800 Mile Journey
How do you develop an environmental baseline for an 800-mile gas pipeline? You start by walking the route.
Over four field seasons, more than 40,000 acres of Alaskan terrain will have been surveyed by the Alaska LNG Project. The project’s design team uses the data collected to reevaluate the route as necessary and to develop engineering solutions based on the terrain.
This summer, the project’s field crews will cover about 7,000 acres—focused on wetlands and cultural sites— and will wrap up field work the project needs to move towards filing an application for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“That’s phase one of the field work, lots of walking,” said Erika Herlugson, senior EIS advisor. Herlugson leads baseline data collection for wetlands, ambient noise, and cultural and archeological sites to help the project understand the landscape and what can be done to avoid or minimize its impact. “During the summer field season, we’re traveling along the route and looking for potential issues. The goal is to find things now, so there’s less of a chance of uncovering something during construction.”
Crews have completed detailed work planning to make sure the complex logistics of a large-scale field program in remote Alaska are in place and all participants know their roles to ensure the work is performed safely. “If it can’t be done safely, we won’t do it.” Said Charlie Kominas the project Safety, Security, Health and Environmental Manager. Everyone on the team is reminded daily that working safely is a value the project will not compromise.”
Mapping includes everything from wetlands to aerial raptor nests to prehistoric cultural sites. Wetlands, for example, are important because their presence poses construction challenges and it’s better to avoid them all together.
Archaeological studies may uncover cabins, home pits, prehistoric finds, and paleontological studies could even find dinosaur remains. “It’s very possible that we could find something that no one knew about before.”
Any discovery made by the project’s survey teams is shared confidentially with the Office of History and Archaeology’s State Historical Preservation Office who then determines if the site warrants further study.
The cultural surveys may reveal finds that will require much more specific examination. It’s important to consider the larger picture and contextualize discoveries. “Maybe there was something bigger here. Maybe there wasn’t just a house. Maybe there was an entire community,” said Herlugson.
In total, there will be about 70 crew members in the field along the pipeline route. Many of them are from Alaska and are returning from previous seasons, which results in enthusiasm, continuity, and deeply informed work.
“This state has a lot of things just sitting out there. Flying up to the North Slope from Fairbanks and looking down through the window—who knows when someone was last in those places?” said Herlugson. “This work really gives you a great appreciation for just how big Alaska is.”