FAIRBANKS — Fuel for oil field operations arrived on the North Slope by barge instead of by truck last week, Aug. 30, for the first time in decades.

Colville, the company that contracted the barge, supplies about 90 percent of the refined fuel for oil field operations on the North Slope.

“The industry demand has increased and is anticipated to increase, and so a fuel barge is a way to augment our trucking operation and the ability to transport fuel up to our customer,” said Colville CEO and President Dave Pfeifer.

There’s an increasing number of big oil projects being planned and developed on the North Slope now, especially west of Prudhoe Bay. That’s where companies such as Conoco have made large oil discoveries recently.

Pfeifer says bringing fuel up by barge is now possible due to declining sea ice.

“The Beaufort Sea has been in the last few years particularly accommodating with a lesser ice floe, which has allowed the ability for barges to come in that hadn’t been in years past,” he said.

Pfeifer expects barging to become a regular part of the company’s fuel delivery system and perhaps even increase in the coming years.

Colville typically delivers 20 million gallons of fuel to the North Slope annually, an amount that requires about 2,000 truck deliveries. One barge delivery is equivalent to that of 200 trucks.

Pfeifer said Colville’s interest in barging stems in part from a 2015 event in which ice and water flooded the Dalton Highway from the nearby Sagavanirktok River and held up transport.

“No truck was able to get past it for about 18 days,” Pfeifer said. “So the supplies ran out and it was only critical services … that the oil companies allowed to burn fuel.”

Pfeifer said that barging will provide the company another way to get fuel to the North Slope should something like that happen again.

The first paragraph of this story has been updated to indicate the delivery was the first in decades, not the first ever.

Alaska’s Energy Desk is a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment with partners KTOO in Juneau, Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KUCB in Unalaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, KBRW in Utqiagvik and KYUK in Bethel.