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Stories & News

Memories & Mileposts: TAPS in History

1981: Kuparuk River unit comes online

Over the course of 45 years, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System has moved over 18 billion barrels of oil from Alaska’s North Slope to tidewater in Valdez. The milestones that have been reached over the 45 years of operations would not have been possible without the discovery at the Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 well on March 12, 1968.

As we celebrate the moments of 45 years of TAPS operations, we also celebrate the accomplishments, the investments and the partnership with Alaska’s North Slope oil producers and unit operators.

Kuparuk Unit – Alaska’s Second Most Prolific Oil Field

Kuparuk was discovered in 1969, two years following the discovery of Prudhoe Bay, the biggest field in North America.

Kuparuk is located 40 miles west of the Prudhoe Bay field. The field was discovered by Sinclair Oil and Sohio by drilling the Ugnu No. 1 well. ARCO Alaska acquired the field in the same year.

Commercial production from the field started in 1981 with an initial estimate of 1.6 billion barrels of recoverable reserves.

Production peaked at 322,000 barrels per day in 1992. The introduction of a large-scale, enhanced oil recovery project and the discovery of several satellite fields, including Meltwater, Tabasco, Tarn, West Sak and NEWS, enabled the cumulative production to reach two billion barrels in July 2005.

The Kuparuk Unit has produced more than 2.8 billion barrels of oil through December 2021 and is operated by ConocoPhillips Alaska.


1977: June 20, TAPS start-up “We have oil in!” (video)

1980: Yukon River bridge (video)

1983: A bird’s-eye view of the Valdez Marine Terminal

1990: Oil Pollution Act: The Global Standard for Oil Spill Prevention and Response