Teamwork shines in Sag River flooding response
It was a perfect storm for a flooding disaster. In the 2014-15 winter, heavy flowrates engorged the Sagavanirktok River, better known as the Sag River. That fed spring 2015's extreme aufeis buildup, which had ice climbing as high as 12 feet. And then came mid-May's record high temperatures, swift snow melt and unrivaled river levels.
In a flash, the Sag River made national news, flooding miles of the North Slope and endangering two of Alaska’s critical economic lifelines: TAPS and the Dalton Highway. Both closely parallel the Sag River for long stretches.
A handful of TAPS workers saw this storm coming. Because of their anticipation, communication and preventative work, TAPS and its fragile environment were spared from what could have been catastrophic damage. For their proactive efforts and monumental cleanup work, a diverse group of TAPS workers are being recognized with the 2016 Atigun Award for Teamwork.
The recipients embody teamwork: they represent many disciplines from many TAPS groups at many locations. Award winners acknowledge additional Alyeska and TAPS contractor staff (right of way workers, engineers, environmental coordinators, surveyors, security, operators, laborers and more), as well as the State of Alaska’s Department of Transportation, the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Water Resources Department, and other support organizations.
"This was a significant event and the right people stepped up when they needed to and protected the pipe," said Chuck Southerland, Alyeska Right of Way Integrity Manager who nominated the group for the Atigun Award. "The other great thing is that even with all that work and pressure, there were no safety incidents or accidents."
As the waters rose …
Ross Oliver and Jim Criner, Pump Station 1 Pipeline & Civil Maintenance Coordinators, and Alex Lai, a Senior Civil Program Engineer and river/flood plains expert based in Fairbanks, know the Sag well. In late February, they recognized all the warning signs and knew an extreme flooding event was coming.
They were especially concerned about valves and below-ground piping between Pipeline Mileposts 19-23. There, the pipeline runs on the east side of the Dalton Highway between the road and river while a smaller fuel gas line runs along the west side of the highway.
"The sheer energy of that river and the flooding waters could expose the pipe and then bend or buckle it," Lai said. "And that would be a bad day."
With the threat eminent, the trio joined others and launched a plan to bolster pipeline protection and complement the existing sets of 9-foot-tall, 1,000-foot-long spur dikes near TAPS. Baseline crews were dispatched to build large ice berms to block the brunt of the flooding and dig 8-10 foot trenches to divert floodwater away.
"We only had about two weeks to plan and prepare, survey a route to trench, make sure it was safe to operate 100,000-pound equipment on ice and then mobilize the right people and equipment," said Lai. "Because of our great working relationships and communication, we were all able to move swiftly and make this work successful."
On May 17, their predications came true. A spring breakup that usually spans a month exploded over three days of severe warmth and melting. With the surge blocked by downstream ice, the flooding returned back upstream and spread across the tundra. Water found a low spot on the 10-foot-high Dalton Highway near Milepost 22. There, it oozed across the road and deteriorated the highway so much it forced a three-week closure.
"I've never seen anything like that flooding in all my years up there," said Adam McAllister, a baseline foreman.
The ice berms and trenches around TAPS did their jobs and the impact was minimal.
Lai added: "The berms and trenches did very well. The areas we were concerned about the most didn’t have any pipe exposed. We had some spur dike damage, but that's what they are there for – to obstruct things from getting to the pipe."
When the waters cleared …
Because the waters jumped the Dalton Highway, some below-ground portions of TAPS and the smaller fuel gas line on the west side of the road closer to Prudhoe Bay were unexpectedly swamped. Water movement was tame compared to the raging action on the east side, though, and while parts of the pipeline and fuel gas line were exposed, they went undamaged.
Infrastructure like the right of way, access roads and pads weren’t so lucky, though. When the water receded, baseline crews shifted from preventative efforts to recovery work that lasted for most of the summer.
"Putting the pieces back together was an enormous task," said Oliver. "I think we hauled 68,000 cubic yards of rock, gravel and riprap through summer. That's about 20 times normal baseline summer work. I have to give the crews and baseline foremen a lot of credit. They accomplished a lot on top of the usual activities they do every year, and they did so safely."
Those receiving Atigun Awards for Teamwork are Alyeska's Pipeline & Civil Maintenance Coordinators Jim Criner (PS1), Ross Oliver (PS1), Frank Duncklee (Fairbanks), Nathan Green (PS4/Fairbanks) and Daryl Beeter (PS4); Alyeska's Senior Civil Program Engineer Alex Lai (Fairbanks); Alyeska's Oil Spill Coordinators Earl Rose (Glennallen Response Base ) and Ben Pennington (PS1); additional Alyeska staff Don Richardson, Shaune O'Neil, Tom Coghill, Isabel Edwards, Dave Allen, Oliver Fleshman, Lorena Hegdal and Jack Dupier (former Alyeska); Houston Contracting Company’s Baseline Foremen Thomas Jurasek (PS5), Phill Huelskoetter (PS4) and Adam McAllister (PS1); Athna Projects staff Scott McIlroy, Dave O'Donnell, Gary Hall, Josh Howitt, Garrett St. Clair, Chris Vaden, Joshua Bartholomew, Bret Bradley, Mike Boston, John Britt, Albert Creach, Richard Draper, Josh Goodlataw, Rosie Gibson, Anthony Giovanni, James Howard, Gearold Kinsman, Scott Lawhon, Eli Nicholas, Steven Parker, Craig Peters, Byron Phillips, Mike Rainwater, Federico Salinas-Johns, Mark Still, Wilmer Thomas, James Trapp, Wallace Wynia and Joseph Waggoner; Hamilton Oil Field's Dwight Stuller, Jay Nelson and Brian O'Dowd; Price Gregory’s Ken Yockey, Greg Erickson, Bud Gish and Ayden Smith; TEAM Industrial's Josh Bell; Coffman Engineering's J.D. Weyers, Cynthia Cacy and Andrew Roche; Merrick's Butch Toms and Greg Johnson; and Hawk's Gary Dillon and Arnold Bell-Lincoln.
Katie the musk ox: From snowstorm to stardom
Five years ago, a group of concerned Alyeska employees and TAPS contractors discovered a baby musk ox abandoned in cold winter conditions between Pump Stations 2 and 3. After nearly two days of working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to obtain authorization to rescue her, the multidiscipline group quickly saved the seemingly starving and freezing little musk ox. They named her Katie in honor of Kate Montgomery, an Alyeska Environmental Coordinator who was one of the rescuers.
Today, Katie the musk ox is thriving and having new adventures in her home at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Her journey from snowstorm to stardom still captures the interest of those who hear her story, especially kids. She inspired an award-winning illustrated children's book, Saving Katie.
Many musk oxen are seen foraging along the northern stretch of TAPS, the pipeline's right of way and the Dalton Highway. They are among the dozens of species of birds, animals and aquatic life living along the 800-mile TAPS route and beyond.
Before TAPS construction, it was recognized that the pipeline and its workers would not only have to coexist with the wildlife and environment, but they would have to commit to making a minimal impact and protecting the animals and the areas they call home. Many regulations were put in place to ensure that Alyeska employees handled wildlife encounters in the most responsible way. That commitment continues today as Alyeska has numerous rules and procedures that regulate work around wildlife.
"We are not at liberty to pick and choose what wildlife we are going to assist," said Jim Lawlor, Alyeska's Environmental Coordinator Supervisor. "The agencies have a zero-impact philosophy; they expect Alyeska to do all that we can to make sure we're in compliance and not impacting the normal course of wildlife and the environment."
There are even environmental work practice rules that require workers to obtain a permit or receive verbal permission before taking any action toward assisting an animal in need – like Katie.
Late in the evening on May 15, 2011, Montgomery received the call from Fish and Game that allowed Alyeska and TAPS workers to rescue Katie.
With the rescue team gathered, they found her three hours later at Pipeline Milepost 76, willing to be cared for without any reluctance or hesitation. With a snowstorm underway, Montgomery knew it was going to be a long night for her and Katie as they started the journey to Prudhoe Bay, the nearest location with appropriate resources. With a mixture of IVs, blankets and plenty of love and attention, Katie was on her way to safety and recovery.
Montgomery credits fast and clear communication about logistics, compliance and animal care between Alyeska, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Zoo for saving Katie and getting her safe travel to Anchorage.
"Fish and Game doesn't always give permission to rescue abandoned wildlife," said Montgomery. "But Alyeska had the right facilities and people to help Katie find a new home."
Since settling into her new life at the Alaska Zoo, Katie has developed into an adult musk ox full of confidence and toughness.
"Katie stands up for herself and acts like she is queen of the run," said Alaska Zoo caretaker Beth Foglesong. "She may be small, but she has a big personality and she doesn't let any of the other musk oxen push her around."
Some minor health issues and her small stature make pregnancy dangerous for Katie, so she won't breed. She also moves awkwardly due to arthritis in her short legs and joints, and her abnormal hoofs need to be trimmed more often than other musk ox. Her caretakers assure visitors that she doesn't have pain, though.
Katie isn't alone at the zoo, finding companionship with another adopted musk ox named Maya. One year ago, Maya had a calf named Charlotte. Katie quickly took on the role of caring aunt.
Although Katie dealt with trauma early in life and faces some health issues now, she doesn't let any of them set her back. She has a thick, healthy coat of coarse fur and has developed good social behavior thanks to her constant contact with Maya. The two often run and walk around their area in the zoo and look over Charlotte.
It's just another day of adventure in a life filled with them for Katie the musk ox.
Saving Katie, an illustrated children's book created by Dianne Barske, tells the story of Katie the musk ox and the role that Alyeska and TAPS workers played in rescuing her. The book recently received a first-place national award for non-fiction children's books at the National Federation of Press Women's Communications Conference.
A powerful storm, an urgent rescue
On TAPS, uncommon occurrences call for fast action, sound decision making and conscientious safety consideration.
"Uncommon" is an understatement for describing the vicious storm of snow and wind that slammed Prudhoe Bay on the night of Feb. 25, 2015. "Uncommon" definitely doesn’t do justice to the grit, discipline and actions displayed by a trio of TAPS workers who battled the storm to get three busloads of stranded North Slope workers to safety and warmth.
For their heroic yet meticulous, resourceful and safe efforts, Adam McAllister, Ben Pennington and Jacob Shultz received 2016 Atigun Awards for Health and Safety, which recognize achievements in the health and safety of people and property, including process and operational safety.
"The cold and low-visibility conditions would normally exceed our risk tolerance for any kind of travel, but the possible life-threatening conditions facing three busloads of people called for a planned and methodical response," explained Ross Oliver, Pump Station 1 P&CM, who was on shift that night and nominated the group for the Atigun Award. "By using their knowledge, commitment, awareness and attention to detail, they were able to safely rescue the people stranded in the severe storm."
A POWERFUL STORM, AN URGENT REQUEST
As forecast, high winds and blowing snow began hitting the Slope around 5 p.m. and shift change. McAllister, a PS 1 Baseline foreman, left camp in his front-end loader to guide the crew change bus to PS 1. The drive that usually takes 15 minutes ended up stretching nearly two hours.
"I've been up on the Slope since 1999 and this was far and away the worst storm I've been in, and I've been in a lot of them," McAllister said. "When we got to the station, I thought, 'Holy smokes, I'm not going out there again.'"
But not everyone was safely situated for the night. The brutal weather and low visibility left three buses stranded in the storm. One bus was dead; drivers of the other two could not see well enough to continue moving.
Meanwhile, some of the 104 people aboard the three buses lacked Arctic gear. Barely two miles away, PS 1 was the closest outpost with heavy equipment. It received a call for help at around 8 p.m.
SLOWLY, STEADILY AND SAFELY
PS 1 senior management conferred and agreed that a rescue should be attempted, provided it could be done safely. They called on two front-end loader driving aces: McAllister and Pennington, an oil spill coordinator and former heavy equipment mechanic. The group discussed the operation and its hazards, and completed an extensive Safe Performance Self Assessment that developed solutions for each potential problem.
"We sat down and thought of everything that could happen and everything we could need – food, extra water, plenty of gear, extra gloves, ice scrappers, a tow strap, even a hammer," McAllister recalled.
Pennington added, "This really was a step-by-step process. We knew we were going to be warm, safe and not get harmed. And we also trusted each other and already had a professional respect for one another."
They equipped two front-end loaders and borrowed a Harmony radio from PS 1 Security, which allowed them to communicate with the buses that didn’t have Alyeska ARTS radios or CBs. They removed the snow buckets from the loaders and put on smaller dirt buckets for better visibility. Pennington carried a GPS, giving the pair situational awareness as they crept out into the storm.
"It took us a half-hour just to get down the driveway," Pennington said. "Then we just had to creep along, going through snowdrifts and stopping to scrape our windows."
McAllister added, "We were going probably 1 MPH, looking for the next delineator along the side of the road, moving to it and then looking for the next one. And when you couldn't see one, you just stopped and waited until you could. When I got to Oxbow Road, I couldn't find a delineator and suddenly had no idea where I was. Ben and his GPS got me going in the right direction."
They found the broken down bus at the intersection of Spine and Oxbow roads, an idling bus just past that intersection, and the final bus idling a bit further away, facing the opposite direction.
ICE IN THEIR VEINS
The duo drove to the last bus first. After guiding it to a seemingly wide area, the bus driver tried turning it around but went off the road. McAllister and Pennington towed it back onto the road, but the driver said something was wrong. Pennington investigated and found the steering was broken.
They left the passengers on the bus, which while not drivable was still running and warm. Back at the first two buses, they transferred passengers from the broken down bus to the running bus and led them back to PS 1.
After unloading, McAllister and Pennington asked the driver to follow them to pick up the final group of passengers. The driver agreed, but his windows were coated with frost.
Jacob Shultz, PS 1 guard and medic, stepped up. He climbed into the bus and held a heat gun to the driver's windshield so it would stay defrosted and clear as they traveled.
"By the time we went for the third bus, visibility was improving so we were going around 3 MPH," McAllister said with a laugh.
The trips out and back were unhurried and uneventful. Five hours after getting the emergency call, 104 passengers and all TAPS staff assisting in the rescue were safe and warm at PS 1.
AFTER THE STORM
"That night was one of those situations where the adrenaline is going really fast, but you're also doing business as usual," explained McAllister. "There was a sense of relief when we were done, though. My biggest worry was that a loader would break down because of the snow clogging the filters."
Upon returning to PS 1 that night, there was no celebration. McAllister and Pennington immediately launched their next mission: finding relatively comfortable places to sleep for the night.
Their big thanks came a year later, when they were named Atigun Award recipients.
"I was kind of surprised that Ross (Oliver) made us out to be heroes, but I would do the same thing if it happened today," McAllister said. "There were more than 100 people out there and we had the best guys to go help them. Ben was great. His support that night was huge."
Pennington gave praise back to his partner and TAPS leaders.
"Adam's just a great guy to have in a clinch," he said, "and I commend Ross and everyone at the pump station that had the trust and faith in us to do the right thing."
Museum exhibit brings TAPS to Juneau
Four-and-a-quarter tons. Dozens of parts. Hundreds of miles. Two years of planning and effort.
By every measurement, the task was huge. But Alyeska's Philip Hoffman was up for the challenge.
Hoffman was brought into the fold early when Juneau's Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum, affectionately known as the SLAM, asked Alyeska officials if they could, by chance, acquire a piece of the pipeline for an exhibit.
The museum didn't simply want a single-ring cutout showing diameter, or a steel pipeline cutout showing thickness; they were asking for what Hoffman calls "a typical intermediate bent." That means a length of 48-inch diameter classic TAPS pipe, two vertical support members, one hefty crossbeam, a pipeline shoe, two pipe clamps, and four heat pipes – not to mention the fiberglass module that wraps the pipe.
"If it wasn't for Phil, this never would have happened," said Michelle Egan, Director of Corporate Communications, one of the first to hear of the request. "It was a huge job for him. It was identifying the pipe, identifying the VSMs, consulting on the installation and mapping out the assembly."
This particular Juneau establishment is designed to house the state archives and library alongside extensive art, Native and historical collections. Supporters say the 18,000-square-foot facility that was years in the making will be a community cornerstone of culture, sure to educate and enthrall crowds of locals and tourists alike.
Being in Southeast Alaska, many of those folks have little or no familiarity with TAPS. Both Egan and Hoffman, a pipeline advisor based in Fairbanks, saw the tremendous potential in supporting such a display.
"I didn't see it as too big of challenge," said Hoffman, who started working on the project midway through 2014, when he oversaw the aboveground pipeline monitoring and maintenance program.
"I thought, 'I'll go find the pieces,'' he said.
It didn't take long for Hoffman, a 19-year TAPS employee, to realize just how unusual this request was. Alyeska had never gifted an entire "intermediate bent" to an outside entity before.
That meant a lot of time researching exactly what parts they would need to ship south – from the pipe itself, to clamp bolts, to washers and Teflon slide plates, to VSM caps and a fiberglass module.
In all, the list contained 30 separate items combining for some 148 parts. Total weight: 8,500 pounds.
"I had to go through every nut and bolt to make sure a complete kit was collected and shipped," Hoffman said.
Lynden Transport, Inc., helped with the monstrous task of shipping. Hoffman made sure the crew that would assemble the pipeline kit – a group likely without a pipeliner among them – had instructions that were useful to follow.
"It was a challenge to prepare the assembly instructions to provide to someone who didn't know anything about it," he said. "It would have been ridiculous to have sent the half dozen or more construction drawings. It seemed like just giving them a typical sketch should have been sufficient, and they seemed to have pulled it off."
Ultimately, museum staff had to add additional beam support in the floor beneath the towering TAPS exhibit to protect the parking garage below. They welded the VSMs to the steel beams in the flooring, then built the floor around it.
Translation: This is one section of TAPS that isn’t going anywhere for a very long time.
At SLAM's unveiling in Juneau this month, Hoffman made his way immediately to the TAPS exhibit. The piece of pipe stretches high above the other exhibits, among showcases highlighting industries like the railroad and mining.
Hoffman snapped photographs as others paused to gape up at the impressive structure and read the information placards. He used his iPhone flashlight to get a closer look at the assemblage, and then stepped back and examined it again.
How did it all look? He had just one word to sum it up: "Awesome," he said.
A dozen Alaska interns join Alyeska for summer assignments
Twelve interns recently joined a variety of Alyeska departments as part of the 2016 Summer Internship Program. Each intern will advance their professional skills in Alyeska's dynamic work environment while furthering Alyeska's workforce development efforts. This summer, interns will work in Anchorage, the Valdez Marine Terminal and at stations along TAPS.
"Alyeska's Summer Internship Program is an important aspect of our commitment to creating development opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers in the oil industry," said Matt Carle, Alyeska's Alaska Native Program Director. "We're able to bring in new talent each year and give them meaningful work experiences and they’re able to learn more about what it's like to work for a company like Alyeska."
This summer's interns are:
• Janelle Feller of Anchorage, a biology student at UAF who will work in the Environment Department in Anchorage
• Joseph (Joey) Glasheen of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAA who will work in Projects and Project Controls in Anchorage
• Tyler Henriksen of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAA who will work in Engineering Standards & Programs in Anchorage
• Andrew Hill of Soldotna, an instrumentation/process technology student at Kenai Peninsula College who will work at Pump Station 1
• Jonah Jeffries of Wasilla, an electrical engineering student at UAF who will work in O&M Engineering in Valdez
• Adam Leggett of Anchorage, an MBA student at Alaska Pacific University who will work in the CFO Department in Anchorage
• Tara McGrogan of Fairbanks, an MBA student at UAF who will work in Corporate Communications in Anchorage
• Brett Meyer of Sterling, an instrumentation/process technology student at UAF who will work in VMT Utilities-Ballast Water Treatment
• Martin Parsons of Fairbanks, an instrumentation/process technology student at UAF who will work in VMT Utilities-Ballast Water Treatment
• Ehren Rickman of Soldotna, an instrumentation/process technology student at Kenai Peninsula College who will work at Pump Station 1
• Gregory (Greg) Schmidt of Anchorage, an electrical engineering student at UAA who will work in O&M Engineering in Anchorage
• Cameron Toskey of Anchorage, a chemical engineering student at the University of Idaho who will work in I&M Planning & Mitigation in Anchorage
The summer internship period runs through the end of August and recruitment for the 2017 internship group begins September 1. For more information about Alyeska internships, please contact Matt Carle at 787-8394 or visit www.alyeska-pipe.com/Employment/InternshipsDevelopmentOpportunities.
Marine milestone: SERVS celebrates tanker escort 13,001
Alyeska's Ship Escort/Response Vessel System recently celebrated moving its 13,001st tanker through Prince William Sound with a SERVS tug escort.
Why celebrate the 13,001st, instead of a round number like 13,000? Blame maritime superstition. It turns out mariners think a lot of things are bad luck – among them, bringing bananas aboard, killing a gull or uttering the number thirteen. Or so says Wikipedia, and some of Alyeska’s own SERVS staffers, who were excited to celebrate this significant milestone.
For milestone purists, the Polar Endeavour was the 13,000th tanker escorted. The 13,001st was the Alaskan Frontier.
Since SERVS startup in 1989, tankers have loaded and departed Valdez with about 9.8 billion barrels of oil.
"Every tanker escort is critical to our prevention efforts in Prince William Sound, but reaching these major milestones is special to me, and special to our team," said Mike Day, SERVS Operations Manager. "Every single person here has a role in making sure that the TAPS system continues safely from the Valdez Marine Terminal though Hinchinbrook Entrance."
SERVS formed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The first tanker to load and depart following that spill was most likely the Bristol Bay, according to Alyeska records.
SERVS was formally established July 10, 1989, and the tugs Biehl Traveler and Biehl Trader were the fleet’s first. The largest tanker berthed and loaded to date carried more than two million barrels of crude oil.
An average escort length is 65 miles, running nearly seven hours in duration.
Providing escorts to laden tankers is just one of the many tasks managed by SERVS. The SERVS team also maintains spill response equipment around Prince William Sound, positions and staffs various barges, and manages the massive Vessel of Opportunity Program, annually training hundreds of citizens in spill response tactics.
Materials team reaches 20-year safety milestone
The TAPS workforce had its best safety year in history in 2015 with just four recordable injuries in 5.8 million hours of work. This achievement was recognized TAPS-wide and set the bar high for 2016. For Alyeska’s Materials team, excellent safety performance is commonplace; the group recently reached 20 years without a recordable injury.
That's 20 years and millions of hours of operating forklifts and 48-ton heavy duty loaders; driving in packed warehouses and on icy roads; and using tools and equipment of all shapes and sizes, from box-cutters to ladders. In 2015, the warehouse team moved over 31,000 pieces of freight weighing nearly 20 million pounds safely along the pipeline and around Valdez and Fairbanks.
"We try to encourage safety as not only an individual effort, but as a shared responsibility of keeping each other safe," said Cheryl Graan, materials and purchasing manager based in Fairbanks.
A CULTURE OF SAFETY IN BUSY, VARIED WORKPLACES
The Materials team consists of more than 30 Alyeska and Houston Contracting Company employees based in Fairbanks, Valdez and pump stations. Staff process thousands of purchase orders, handle logistics of incoming supplies, ensure deliveries and manage over $57 million of inventory across TAPS. Attention to detail is critical for coordinators who work in confined warehouse spaces and unpredictable outdoor conditions.
"This team is a shining example not just for Alyeska but our whole industry in Alaska," explained Dan Flodin, director of the Supply Chain Management Department that oversees the Materials group. "The collaboration between Alyeska and Houston Contracting Company employees around our core value of safety is phenomenal."
At the warehouses, each day begins with a tailgate meeting discussing the day's activities, potential safety hazards and mitigation measures. Additionally, the larger team holds weekly safety meetings and encourages each employee to lead. Graan adds that the success also stems from a focus on learning, improving and innovating with safety in mind.
"Everyone at the Alyeska Central Warehouse takes pride in the final outcome of every day," said Mike Fantazzi, Fairbanks warehouse foreman. "We belong to a team of people that are spread throughout the state with one common goal."
Evan Jones, Pump Station 9 materials coordinator, added: "We have a saying that we don't leave safety at the door. That's why I am proud of not being injured at work or at home with my family during my 17 years on TAPS."
HIGH SHELVES, HIGHER SAFETY STANDARDS AND OWNERSHIP
In warehouses full of materials, there’s nowhere to go but up. Materials often get stacked on pallets and stored high on warehouse shelves. Next time you take a trip to Costco or Home Depot, look around. Imagine the kind of tight-knit operation it takes to move materials of all shapes and sizes up and down, in and out, and doing it all safely. Team members say it’s vital to establish and uphold high safety standards, especially with new staff.
"The challenge is maintaining these safe practices with fresh faces coming and going," Graan said. "It's impressive that the newer staff embraces the safety culture, not only for themselves but also to pass that on and watch out for each other."
Jim Burzinski, Valdez material coordinator and one of the team’s safety leaders, said, "I am most proud of the personnel who helped get us to this point and the personnel who continue to lead by example."
So, how does a team improve on a two-decades-long-and-running safety streak?
"This is a record that no one wants to break, believe me," Graan said. "Nobody wants to be the one to set the recordable incident sign back to zero. If we continue to follow our motto that 'No Task is Routine' we'll be able to achieve another 20 years of safe performance."
Alyeska receives Governor’s Safety Award of Excellence
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was recognized with a Governor’s Safety Award of Excellence for the second year in a row at the recent Alaska Governor’s Safety & Health Conference in Anchorage.
"This is exciting because these awards aren't just based on successful safety programs, but also on a company's culture of safety,” said Brian Beauvais, Alyeska's Senior Health and Safety Manager, Risk and Technical. "At Alyeska and on TAPS, people are making safety a priority."
The Governor’s Safety Award of Excellence honors an organization’s safety and health systems that protect their employees in the workplace and promote corporate citizenship. Alyeska has received this award in the past, as well.
The TAPS workforce completed its best safety year ever in 2015. Alyeska staff and TAPS contractors worked a combined 5,827,988 hours and had just four recordable injuries while avoiding any days away from work cases during that time.
The state noted Alyeska's dedication to flawless operations and maintenance, as well as how Alyeska and TAPS workers embody that safety culture. Alyeska is also known for its "stop work" policy, which allows any employee or contractor to stop a task if they identify something unsafe about the activity.
Beauvais attributed two major factors to the improved safety performance: more and better data is being collected, distributed and communicated by Alyeska's Safety Department staff and TAPS supervisors and managers; and there is a better use of proactive tools like Safe Performance Self Assessments, Job Loss Analysis and Loss Prevention Observations that empower those performing the work.
Beauvais also pointed to the Safety Department's forecasting work as an example of a preventative approach to keeping employees safe. A monthly report uses risk and injury data from the past to predict the highest risks for the month ahead.
"TAPS-wide, there continues to be a significant increase in staff using these proactive tools which has led to a decrease in incidents, especially in the field," Beauvais added. "People have really upped their game of using safety data and communicating it with one another."
Valve testing project provides new information, efficiencies
Have a question about TAPS valves? Ask Alyeska valve engineer Dana DeGraffenried. He knows the minute details of all 176 valves along the 800-mile TAPS route. His valve knowledge is especially sharp right now, having concluded a four-year project of testing every valve on the pipeline last fall.
"This was a very successful project and we are thrilled to have it completed," DeGraffenried said. "One of the more amazing things to me in doing these tests is that these valves have been in service for 35-plus years and they still meet our very stringent criteria. It’s amazing to see how well they continue to perform."
In mid-1990s, questions arose about the legacy valves installed on TAPS: were they still viable and fully functional after more than 20 years of use and billions of barrels of oil passing by them? TAPS engineering teams developed ways to test the valves' leak-through rate, which is the amount of oil that passes by a valve when it is closed. Teams were tasked to test each valve that did not leak every 15 years, and any valve that did leak every seven years. Testing all of the valves requires four summers of work during planned maintenance shutdowns.
DeGraffenried said that only eight valves have ever had to be replaced on TAPS, which includes Remote Gate Valve 40's replacement this summer. Each summer since 2012, DeGraffenried and his teams charted TAPS into segments and tested valves in each of those areas during long-duration summer shutdowns.
Before the most recent four-year stretch of testing, DeGraffenried and his fellow engineers developed a new testing approach, utilizing a high-pressure pump-around skid in pipeline bypass areas. This allows oil to remain in the pipeline and teams to push and pull the oil at different pressure levels between valves for testing. As many as 20 teams were stationed at selected valves during testing. In the past, oil was drained from a large portion of the pipeline into nearby tanker trucks to lower the pressure on one side of a valve.
The new process instantly improved safety and efficiency while decreasing risk. By not draining oil out and then pumping it back into the pipeline, the new testing considerably lessened the chance of a spill or damage to the pipeline valves. By using the pump-around skid, teams were also able to test more valves during each shutdown.
"We have basically cut the testing time in half," DeGraffenried said. He estimates that the new testing process also saved Alyeska several million dollars over the previous testing approach.
DeGraffenried said that valve testing itself "is relatively simple and straight-forward work." Teams use digital testing gauges to read pressures as they open and close valves. The hardest part of the testing process, he noted, is communication between teams that are spread out over many miles in mostly remote areas. They use various devices to communicate, all with mixed results: the ARTS radio network, telephone setups at each remote gate valve, cell phones and even satellite phones. DeGraffenried said nothing works perfectly and sometimes communication connections were frustrating.
Despite occasional communication hurdles during testing, the larger message was loud and clear: the four-year valve testing, and its new approach, was a success.
"There were a lot of lessons learned since we started with the new testing in 2012 and we've improved the process significantly," DeGraffenried added. "After the first tests in 2012, we had three pages of lessons learned and important information captured. After our last tests in August, it was hard to pull anything new out of the testing group."
2015 Sustainability: A unique year in review
2015, TAPS' 38th year, was a strong performance year. Despite extreme spring floods, severe storms, summer wildfires, lower throughput, falling oil prices and aging infrastructure, Alyeska and TAPS contractor personnel sustained the high TAPS reliability and efficiency that owner companies, producers, shippers, refiners and Alaskans depend on. TAPS personnel compiled an outstanding record for safety and environmental protection. They completed a large project portfolio to support current and future system operating integrity. They personally supported many community needs across the state.
The new publication, 2015 Sustainability, illustrates some of the challenges and performances that made 2015 so unique for TAPS. Highlights of the publication include a letter from Alyeska President Tom Barrett and 2015 recaps covering Safety; Reliability and Renewal; Environment; Business Performance; Community; and TAPS People.
Barrett notes in his introduction, "Alyeska's focus on safe operation, effective maintenance, and emergency preparedness requires an all day, every day, round-the-clock commitment to excellence. Managers, supervisors, and employees along the line, in Valdez, Fairbanks and Anchorage all understand that not just what they do, but how well they do it, matters enormously. Their unrelenting focus on operational excellence, strong financial stewardship, teamwork and innovation, their operational and professional skill and discipline, and their willingness to personally take on the multiple challenges we faced in 2015 gave TAPS a good year. TAPS pride is not a slogan, it is how people who operate and manage TAPS define themselves."