Bridge building on Alaska’s North Slope

Updated Jan 31, 2015
(Photo credit: ConocoPhillips)(Photo credit: ConocoPhillips)

Four bridges integral to the Alpine Satellite Development Program faced environmental challenges.

The four bridges being constructed by ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. (CPAI) as part of the Alpine Satellite Development Program’s Colville Delta-5 (CD-5) Construction project on Alaska’s North Slope have not only faced construction in harsh cold weather — including extreme temperatures — but also several environmental challenges.

Colville River Delta on the North Slope of Alaska (Photo credit: Eric/Flickr)Colville River Delta on the North Slope of Alaska (Photo credit: Eric/Flickr)

The construction and bridge building industry often faces a rough road with permitting issues and NIMBY-ism (Not In My Backyard), which was the case with this project.

The project involves construction of a drilling pad, a gravel access road and four bridges, including a 1,405-foot span across the Nigliq Channel of the Colville. Fifteen initial wells are planned, including seven producers and eight injectors.

The four bridges will be built by two groups. The Nigliq Channel Bridge, spanning 1,405 feet, and the L9323 Bridge, which will be 250 feet, will be built by a joint-venture team led by PCL Civil Constructors Inc. and includes CH2M Hill.

Ruskin Construction Ltd. North Slope heavy civil contractor Nanuq/AFC Inc. (a subsidiary of the Kuukpik Corporation of Nuiqsut, Alaska) will construct two additional bridges for the project: the Nigliagvik Channel Bridge, which will be 355 feet, and the L9341 Bridge, spanning 420 feet. Project cost, including drilling, is about $1 billion.

Building amidst controversy

Building to gain access to the Alaskan oilfields has been controversial, with environmental groups and agencies protesting the construction and lobbying for permits to be denied.

CD-5, which is within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), will deliver the first commercial oil production from the reserve since it was created in 1923 by President Warren Harding. The project is expected to produce from 10,000 barrels per day to 18,000 barrels per day of new oil at peak production.

Alpine satellite CD-5 will consist of a new production drill site about six miles west of the existing Alpine field, with initial wells and the potential for more wells depending the results of the initial drilling program, according to ConocoPhillips.

CD North (CD-3), CD South (CD-4), Alpine West (CD-5), Lookout (CD-6), and Spark (CD-7) Alpine Satellite Development Program Site Map (Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management)CD North (CD-3), CD South (CD-4), Alpine West (CD-5), Lookout (CD-6), and Spark (CD-7) Alpine Satellite Development Program Site Map (Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

The site is being made accessible by a new gravel road from the existing Alpine road system and includes four bridges over channels of the Colville River. The bridges are being constructed this year, with the Nigliq Channel Bridge requiring an extra year of construction to be completed in 2015.

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CD5 represents the first production from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and expected to result in the new production of 10,000 to 18,000 barrels of oil per day, with peak employment of nearly 400 new direct jobs during the construction and hundreds more support jobs, according to CPAI’s Alpine Colville River Unit fact sheet. (For a downloadable version, click here.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally denied ConocoPhillips a Clean Water Act (CWA) wetlands permit for the project.

The Corps suggested an under river pipeline without a bridge or road – similar to the under river pipeline that runs below the main Colville River connecting its Alpine oilfield to the North Slope oil field complex and Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This is a roadless development, and in the winter an ice road is built connecting Kuparuk to Alpine to move in supplies for the rest of the operating year.

In any given winter season, more than 1,500 truckloads of modules, pipeline and equipment are moved to Alpine over the ice road.

However, the Corps reconsidered after ConocoPhillips pointed out that an underground pipeline crossing would even more of a potential hazard because the three-phase flow through the pipeline of raw crude, gas and water could create corrosion. Additionally, the contractor noted, an aboveground pipeline on a bridge would be easier to inspect and maintain.

Alpine Satellite Development Program Site Map Alpine West CD-5 site map (Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management)Alpine Satellite Development Program Site Map Alpine West CD-5 site map (Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

The Corps conducted a long review and subsequently agreed with this logic, along with the EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

However, seven residents of Nuiqsut, a predominantly Inupiat Eskimo village about 8.5 miles southeast of the CD-5 site, in February 2013 sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which granted ConocoPhillips a wetlands fill permit for the project, according to a report in The Petroleum News. The Center for Biological Diversity also sued the Corps.

The group of villagers who filed the suit said the Corps failed to conduct a proper, up-to-date study of the environmental impacts of the project, according to The Petroleum News report.

They also argued that the Corps failed to provide “an adequate explanation for the 180-degree change in the agency’s determination of which project design would be the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” as required by the Clean Water Act, according to the report.

However, after Corps reconsidered its original decision against granting the permit, the agency then defended its decision to grant the permit, based on all the information considered. (For a report from sister site Aggregates Manager on “Changing Adversaries into Allies,” click here.)

U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bud C. Cribley concluded that over the long term, the bridge at CD-5 would minimize environmental impacts in the area because it allows other companies that develop leases in the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska (NPR-A) to use the same crossing instead of having to seek approval for additional channel crossings in the area.

For a downloadable PDF of the CD-5 Development Project Plan, including land tenure maps, state spill response plan, erosion control, snow removal, emissions, fluid storage, drilling, ice roads and information on the access road route, click here.