|The Timber pumping station just north of Delta Junction in 2014|
The Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline was a 624-mile long, 8-inch diameter line that carried fuel from Haines in Southeast Alaska to Eastern Interior Alaska military installations. The pipeline operated from 1956 to 1973.
It was the successor to the World War II-era CANOL (Canadian Oil) Pipeline. The CANOL line east of Whitehorse shut down after the war. However, a 4-inch Skagway-Whitehorse line and a 3-inch Whitehorse-Fairbanks line were kept in use transporting fuel brought up the Inside Passage on tankers.
Post-war military activities in Alaska outpaced the capacity of the CANOL Line, which could pump about 3,000 barrels per day. Discussions on replacing it were held as early as 1945, but planning didn’t actually start until 1950.
A new pipeline was designed with a normal throughput of 9,600 barrels per day. It would run from the ice-free port at Haines, along the Haines Highway to Haines Junction in Canada, and then along the Alaska and Richardson highways to Fairbanks. This route shaved 240 miles off the Skagway-Whitehorse-Fairbanks route, and its proximity to already-developed roads allowed the use existing bridges for pipeline crossings of rivers and streams.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for construction, but private contractors performed the work. Contracts were issued in October 1953 and right-of-way clearing began immediately. Bulldozers accomplished much of the work, but in some areas a 7-foot diameter hollow steel ball filled with water was strung between tractors and dragged along the right-of-way. The filled balls weighed between 10 and 12 tons and according to reports “cleared brush and trees at a rapid rate.”
Once clearing was completed, most of the line’s pipe was laid directly on the ground. Two major sections were buried: a 40-mile section north of Haines for protection from avalanches, and a 100-mile section south of Fairbanks that crossed military maneuver areas.
The system included the pipeline itself, five pumping stations (Haines, Border, Haines Junction, Donjek, and Tok), tank farms at Haines and Tok, and a terminal facility at Haines. Normally, only the pumps at Haines, Border and Tok were used, but output could be increased to 16,500 BPD if Donjek and Haines Junction also went on-line. The line was completed in 1955 but didn’t begin pumping until 1956.
Alaska’s military fuel needs increased dramatically after the pipeline was completed. Fortunately, pipeline designers anticipated changes and allowed for easy modifications. In 1961, six booster stations were added to the line increasing its maximum capacity to 27,500 barrels per day. The new stations were constructed at Blanchard River, Destruction Bay and Beaver in Canada; and Lakeview, Sears Creek, and Timber in the United States. The drawing is of the Timber pumping station 12 miles north of Delta Junction.
The pumping stations, isolated as they were, were self-contained communities. Living quarters were on-site, and each station had its own heating, electrical, water and sewage system. According to the U.S. Army report, The Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline, maintaining the pipeline was considered one of the loneliest jobs someone could be assigned to.
In 1970 significant corrosion was detected along the pipeline, especially the southern half between Tok and Haines. Repair costs were prohibitive, and a study concluded that with additional fuel storage tanks at Eielson AFB and improved railroad and tanker-truck facilities, the pipeline was no longer needed.
The line’s southern half was mothballed in 1971 and closed permanently in 1972. The section from Tok to Eielson was deactivated the next year. The Fairbanks-Eielson segment was used in reverse until 1992.
Most of the above-ground pipe is gone, as are the tank farms and the Haines terminal. However, a few of the pumping stations (some re-purposed) can still be seen along the Richardson and Alaska highways.
- “Alaska’s Other Pipelines.” Betzi Woodman. In Alaska Report, Vol. 12, No. 3 (March 1971)
- Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline: Design, Construction and Operation. D.E. Garfield, et al. U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. 1977
- The Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline. Christy Hollinger. Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands. 2003