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Ninety minutes into the flight, on which I am the sole woman apart from the stewardess, the pilot announces: "We are now passing over the Arctic Circle." I don't know if this is supposed to excite me, but I look down on to flat, barren nothingness.

Another hour and a half later we land at the desolate, single-storey corrugated-iron building next to the runway that serves as Deadhorse Airport - to discover our bags have been lost.

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In winter the now-green tundra is blanketed with snow with temperatures regularly hitting minus 50 or 60. The only reason for any human life in this wilderness is the Trans Alaska Pipeline, a modern feat of engineering, which sits 5ft above the permafrost and carries billions of barrels of oil 800 miles south to the ice-free port of Valdez, where it is pumped on to supertankers and carried to the rest of America.The oil which polluted Prince William Sound in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, causing one of the worst ecological disasters of modern times, came from Prudhoe Bay.If they find it, and they conduct random searches, the guys know it means instant dismissal and the first flight out."Most of the workers live in dormitories next to the rigs.One told me: "Food is the only comfort - there's no women and no alcohol. That's it." The shutdown of the oil pipeline is costing the state of Alaska .2million a day in lost tax revenue.Deadhorse proudly describes itself as 'at the end of the Earth' - though it seemed even further than that to me during a harrowing 18-hour, 4,000-mile journey to get there from my home in comfortable Los Angeles.

First there is a nearly six-hour flight to Anchorage, Alaska's main city.They have also booked all available charter planes.My photographer and I endure a nine-hour wait before we finally get two stand-by tickets.There is constant daylight, making eye masks and blackout curtains essential for sleep.At times, the bright sun beats down but just as quickly a biting wind whips up, sending temperatures plunging.It is a public relations and financial disaster for BP which admits the repairs could take months.