Discovery of oil and gas in the Arctic may pose the greatest transportation challenge of our time. Airlifting the oil out of the Arctic might be preferable to fighting the environment every foot of the way along the surface. There are several conditions for competitive costs. The airplane should be large to take advantage of economies of scale, a very high utilization of expensive elements of the system must be achieved, and perhaps the cargo should be transferred to a surface mode once it reaches a more temperate climate. Conceptual design studies and preliminary economic analyses indicate an airlift system may provide competitive transportation for oil, natural gas or other resources in some Arctic situations.

The Challenge

The transportation challenge posed by the discovery of oil and gas in the Arctic is almost unique in history. The challenge comes from a combination of factors: the large quantities of valuable oil and. gas the ready and eager markets, of oil and gas in the Arctic is almost unique in history. The challenge comes from a combination of factors: the large quantities of valuable oil and gas, the ready and eager markets, the hostile nature of the weather and terrain between newly discovered fields and the markets, and increased emphasis by conservationists and world governments on environment. The difficulties anticipated for traditional modes of transportation in the Arctic may be offset to a large degree by application of the pool of technology accumulated by the aerospace industry in meeting other challenges including successfully dealing with the much harsher environment of space. These factors suggest an opportunity for a novel, or at least an unconventional solution. However, the suggestion that airlift may be the most attractive and economical solution requires some explanation. Several simple principles must be combined to understand the logic of the concept. Perhaps a review of the history of the concept is the best way to introduce these underlying principles.


The history of Boeing interest in the transportation challenge posed by discovery of Arctic oil and gas goes back to late in the summer of 1969. An old friend stopped in Seattle on his way back to Houston from Prudhoe Bay. He had looked over the North Slope first hand in preparation for making his company's bid in the Alaskan lease auction. He was convinced that getting the oil out would be a major problem and half-seriously asked about the possibilities of airlift. It took only a few minutes minutes and a couple of old envelope backs to convert from current air freight rates to costs per barrel delivered by air to a refinery gate at a major market. The answer was many times the posted price. This was only the first time that I found how easy it is to "prove" that moving oil by air isn't practical Since then, I've seen it done hundreds of times.

By the end of 1969, my friend's company held Iease rights on part of the slope.

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