Abstract: Petroleum Pipelines and the Culture of Environmentalism: The Northern-Tier Pipeline in Puget Sound, 1977-1982

Ellen R. Wald


This paper examines the Northern-Tier Pipeline Company's (NTPC) failed operations in the Pacific Northwest during the Carter and Reagan administrations and provides an illustrative example of the risks of ignoring local political culture. NTPC was formed in 1975 to build a pipeline and bring Alaskan oil from the Pacific to the Midwest. It received support from the federal government and the northern states of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, through which it would traverse. The company complied with environmental regulations and permitting procedures, and the federal government expedited the national permits. Company executives believed they would be able to proceed quickly, but throughout the process they ignored the environmentalist sympathies in the Pacific Northwest, and failed to recognize the particular pro-environmentalist culture of the Seattle area. Their impact on local politics ultimately killed the pipeline venture. Negative reports, later traced to a group of federal and state bureaucrats known as the "Muskoxen" who covertly tried to control business operations in Washington, spurred public opposition to the pipeline. Despite national pressure, Governor Spellman of Washington refused to grant NTPC a permit. Ultimately, after lengthy and expensive legal battles with Washington, NTPC could not afford a second round of planning and permitting and abandoned the project.