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1973

Nixon supports construction of the Alaskan oil pipeline

On this day in 1973, President Richard Nixon declares that America’s energy requirements have outpaced its production capacity and urges Congress to pass Senate Bill 1081, which would authorize the construction of a pipeline to access oil from the North Slope of Alaska.

Nixon claimed the nation’s “dangerous reliance” on foreign oil, controlled mainly by the increasingly powerful, but politically unstable oil-rich nations of the Middle East, posed a threat to America’s economy. America had once relied on cheap domestic oil, but by the 1970s, dwindling supplies forced the nation to buy more expensive oil on the international market. An Arab oil embargo in 1973 exacerbated the problem. Saying that the conservation of existing domestic supplies was not enough, Nixon declared that America had to find and tap more oil resources closer to home.

In his announcement on this day, Nixon projected that the pipeline would be completed in 1977, and would eventually carry 2 million barrels of oil per day into the port at Valdez, Alaska, where tankers would then carry the precious cargo into the continental United States. Nixon sought to assure an increasingly vocal environmental movement that the planned pipeline—which he called the “single largest endeavor ever undertaken by private enterprise”–would be constructed and operated “under the most rigid environmental safeguards ever devised.” Meanwhile, though, he asked Congress not to attach amendments to the bill that would have given federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Game regulatory power over the pipeline’s construction.

Oil began flowing through the pipeline on June 20, 1977. Although the pipeline increased domestic oil supplies, America continued to rely primarily on crude exports from the Middle East. In 2001, President George W. Bush expressed the desire to open up more of the Alaskan North Slope to oil and gas exploration and production. He echoed Nixon’s original claim that to do so would ease America’s dependence on foreign oil and make the nation less vulnerable to political instability in the Middle East.

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