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Natural Resources in Alaska


Trans Alaska pipeline
Trans Alaska pipeline

Alaska ranks second in petroleum production among the states, after Texas. Most of the oil produced comes from the Prudhoe Bay area on the Arctic (North) Slope. The amount of petroleum produced from these oilfields is steadily declining as they near depletion. However, geologists believe that potentially large reserves of oil and natural gas on the North Slope remain undiscovered. The Kenai Peninsula and Upper Cook Inlet also produce petroleum and natural gas. Alaska also produces significant quantities of gold, lead, silver, and zinc, and modest amounts of antimony, mercury, platinum, tin, and other metals.

In the years before Alaska was purchased by the United States there was very little interest in mining in Alaska itself, although gold prospectors were active in what is now the Yukon Territory, Canada. Later, in the 1880s, Juneau and Treadwell, in the Alaska Panhandle, were founded as gold-mining centers. The big bonanza, however, came in 1896, when gold deposits were discovered in the Klondike, in the Yukon Territory.

Unsuccessful prospectors in the Yukon then considered the possibilities in Alaska. They found gold at Nome, Rampart, and Hot Springs, and the overflow from these camps rushed to the Fairbanks area. By the 1910s production had begun at copper mines in the Copper River and Prince William Sound areas. A railroad was built to carry the ore to Cordova.

After World War I (1914-1918) the output of copper and gold declined. In 1938 the last great copper mine closed. Gold continues to be produced, mainly in the Fairbanks area and the Yukon and Kuskokwim river valleys. Gold production declined in the 1960s, but with the rise in world gold prices in succeeding decades, interest in mining was revived. A number of previously closed mining camps were reopened, and gold mines of globally significant size opened.

Seismic surveys suggest that significantly large gold deposits exist in the Fairbanks area. Coal is found in a number of areas. Most of the coal is exported, although a significant portion fuels electricity-generating plants. All of the coal produced is from strip mines.

Natural gas


Natural gas was discovered in 1949 near Point Barrow on the North Slope. The Prudhoe Bay region contains one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas, most of which is injected back into the ground to add pressure to the oil deposits, thereby aiding in its extraction. While numerous proposals have been made to export this gas, the cost of transportation so far has made exports prohibitively expensive. Oil was first discovered on a commercial scale in the Swanson River area of the Kenai Peninsula in 1957. Other major discoveries followed as exploration was undertaken throughout Alaska as well as in the offshore waters in Cook Inlet and along the northern coasts. In 1968 one of the largest deposits of oil in North America was discovered in the Prudhoe Bay area of the North Slope. In 1977 shipment of oil began through a 1,300-km (800-mile) pipeline designed to carry 2 million barrels of crude oil per day to the ice-free port of Valdez on the southern coast. In the late 1980s, an important new oil field was discovered at Point McIntyre, just north of the Prudhoe Bay field. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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