Region 6: Alaska

Alaska has the lowest population density of any state in the Union, with only a little over one person per square mile. Many people live in rural areas, and with about 20% of the state covered by glaciers and water, getting energy to the population is challenging. Running electrical lines throughout the state’s 1.72 million square kilometers (663,000 square miles) is not feasible when considering the number of people the lines would serve. Therefore, most people in rural areas use heating oil and/or wood for heat and energy.

In the late 1960s, oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, and it has proved to be the largest recoverable oil field in the US. The source of this oil is rocks ranging from Mississippian to Paleogene in age, but particularly organic-rich marine coastal deposits from Mesozoic marine coastal deposits. Significant amounts of oil and gas were trapped under the Barrow Arch, a regional belt of metamorphic and igneous rock that formed a cap for the oil reservoir. After significant negotiations with the native populations of Alaska, the Trans-Atlantic Pipeline was finished in 1977, running from the Prudhoe Bay some 800 miles south to Valdez, Alaska, at the Prince William Sound. This produced a boom in oil extraction in the state. Production from the Prudhoe Bay oilfields has dwindled over the years, however, and the largest energy source consumed in Alaska is now natural gas.


As leaves and wood are buried more and more deeply, pressure on them builds from overlying sediments, squeezing and compressing them into coal. The coal becomes gradually more enriched in carbon as water and other components are squeezed out: peat becomes lignite, bituminous and eventually anthracite coal, which contains up to 95% carbon. Anthracite has the fewest pollutants of the four types of coal, because it has the highest amount of pure carbon. By the time a peat bed has been turned into a layer of anthracite, the layer is one-tenth its original thickness.

The Carboniferous period takes its name from the carbon in coal. A remarkable amount of today’s coal formed from the plants of the Carboniferous, which included thick forests of trees with woody vascular tissues.

Alaska has significant coal reserves in just one active mine, near Healy. The coal was deposited in terrestrial environments during a much warmer and wetter Miocene climate than is found there today.

Alaska Energy Authority’s (AEA) Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency (AEEE) program manages and funds projects and initiatives totaling $188 million in state and federal funding. Many of these projects seek to lower the cost of power and heat to Alaskan communities while maintaining system safety and reliability.