Engineer of the Year: Greg Kinney
Greg Kinney was fascinated by TAPS operations long before he was an Alyeska engineer, and more than a year before the pipeline started moving oil. Raised in Fairbanks, Greg had an “I was there” perspective on the wild construction era of the engineering marvel. He graduated from Lathrop High School in the summer of 1975, and, he recently explained with a smile, “By Labor Day, I was working on Franklin Bluffs as a rig oiler.”
Occasionally, in the rare calm moments in the field, Greg would ponder the controlled chaos going on around him and far beyond to the north and south, about this project and pipeline, its present state being pieced together, and its future of safely moving oil across Alaska.
“I had no engineering inclination, but I was really interested in the mammoth construction effort and how that pipeline would one day operate,” he recalled. “How is thing going to work? The pumps, how do they work? It’s 800 miles long – how do they know how to link up sections? And would it even work? It’s simple to me now, but back then it was a mystery.”
Sure, today, after more than 34 years as an Alyeska engineer, Greg is as comprehensively familiar with TAPS, its operations, support facilities, and pipeline people as any current employee. And yet, the more he understands about TAPS, the more he said he craves to learn. That endless wonder has kept him acutely engaged and happily employed at Alyeska into his mid-60s. It’s made him a standout mechanical engineer (with a civil engineering license, too) and irreplaceable TAPS teammate to many. It’s made him a rare and invaluable source of TAPS history and Alyeska institutional knowledge. And it’s made him the deserving recipient of this year’s Atigun Awards President’s Choice Engineer of the Year.
“Greg Kinney is one of those guys that no matter what, he will lend a hand and help out with a smile on his face,” said Betsy Haines, Alyeska’s Interim President and longtime Alyeska employee whose career has overlapped Greg’s at times. “His knowledge of the pipeline is so extensive that we can place him anywhere and he will get the job done. And I love that he is mentoring the new generation of ‘Gregs’ so that when he does retire, we will still have that deep engineering knowledge of the system.”
The Atigun Award and praise like that truly impact Greg, as he showed a range of emotions during a recent interview and at the Anchorage Atigun Awards event. But ultimately, Greg said he’s still doing exactly what he’s always wanted: working on TAPS.
“You hear the term ‘It’s humbling,’ and it’s almost like a cliché,” he said. “I’m happy with the work I do. So to get this award in the first place, and the fact that I’m recognized by the people I work with, I do feel humbled. I hope I can live up to it. I hope I can continue to show value.”
Few would argue that there are more experienced engineering minds and hands on TAPS than Greg. He’s appreciated by many for his depth of mechanical familiarity with the pipeline, of course, but also respected for his above-and-beyond commitment to his work and support for his colleagues.
“Greg never says that’s not my job, or I’m just mechanical, or I’ll be unavailable – never!” wrote Di Amsden, Maintenance Supervisor, in her nomination for Greg. “His years of service on the line in his current capacity and previous years in the projects capacity make him a valuable asset to the TAPS family for both his knowledge and historical knowledge.”
Rachel BakerSears, Greg’s longtime engineering teammate in Fairbanks, added, “I have always been impressed by Greg. Not only is he a very well-rounded and dedicated engineer with incredible work ethic, he is approachable and can be relied on to provide practical input and feedback.”
As a site engineer, Greg currently supports a stretch of TAPS from Pump 5 to 11. Over decades on TAPS, he’s worked just about everywhere with just about everyone – from Right of Way to Facilities, Projects to Operations, Integrity Maintenance, and more. He’s been on the frontline of some of the most significant TAPS projects like Electrification & Automation, and also led behind-the-scenes culture-and-safety game changers like relocating the VMT’s security front gate, complete with crash barrier, pivot gate and island.
Greg said his favorite role is sharing TAPS history, past, present and future: whether that’s talking about the pipeline’s big picture significance or teaching the intricacies of working on the system, its infrastructure and operations. He said what makes him “very proud” is building out training, documentation, and procedures for completed projects to help others best understand the new aspects to their work and areas.
“He knows TAPS, TAPS history, and he works to understand what the future may bring,” said Rachel. “Last year, he organized the Alaska Symposium on Cold and Changing Climate. This unprecedented event brought several internal and external experts together, including some past Alyeska employees, to reflect on TAPS history and discuss and ponder future challenges and opportunities.”
Bob Devereaux, Site Engineer, noted that Greg has also led talks on the pipeline’s original design, the current large rotating equipment state, pipeline and ROW maintenance, and the effects of continuous creeping Earth movement threats to pipeline integrity.
“As we move forward, there are fewer and fewer people who understand why we did the things we did (during construction),” Greg said. “So I love the training seminars, designs, continuous change, the lineage between the past and the future. The big challenge is to continue to adapt, make it more streamlined and economical. Continue to innovate and stay on top of our game.”
Bob wrote of Greg, “As a long-term Alyeska employee, his mission is to continuously do what’s best for his work assignments and peers. Through respectful interactions with his Alyeska and contract peers and clients and his extensive engineering knowledge and experience. (He’s) a great role model for any Alyeska employee.”
Once again, Greg said that designation is humbling. He sees it as sharing what he knows and loves, and hopefully that elevates those he works with on TAPS.
“It’s an honor to be considered a role model, not something you aspired to be. … but if I can at least help other people in some way to realize their own potential, that’s an honor,” he said. “Related to my own experience, I think about what I can bring that’s different and additive, and I’m glad to to help others find value that they can add. That feels good.”
A true Alaskan and Alyeska professional, Greg doesn’t take a day on the job or in his sometimes-wild workplace for granted, even after 30-plus years.
“I was driving north in the winter at night once and I saw the lights of Prudhoe Bay on the horizon looking enormous and it was like a Fata Morgana, an atmospheric inversion – and it was like that until I got to the Deadhorse airstrip,” he recalled. “Another winter drive from Pump 1 to Pump 3 was in the pitch black, and I saw the most spectacular shooting star display. And in 2002, it was the best day of work I ever had. We were on the Salcha River, putting out boom vane. It was a cold morning, and the sun just opens up and warms everything up. I thought, ‘Man, I should be paying them.’”
As much as Greg loves those special highlights that TAPS workers get to experience, they are complements to the passion he has for the ebbs and flows of his daily duties, for TAPS and for Alyeska. It’s what’s kept him around for more than 30 years and has him still looking at the future.
“It’s not just inertia – here I am, turning 65 in March, and I’m still curious, eager to learn more,” he said. “I’ve worked over half my life with TAPS and I’ve always found it interesting and engaging. I always get the opportunity to learn and get better here. So I’d like to continue on for a few more years, continue to contribute, make my last 10 years the very best.”
He hopes one of those contributions would further cement TAPS’ place in American, construction, pipeline and engineering lore. Greg said that in four years, TAPS will be eligible for National Heritage Landmark status, and he’d love to be part of that submission process. He remembers the excitement of TAPS being named Project of the Year by Civil Engineering Magazine in 1978.
Greg is far from ready for his TAPS journey to end, but when it does, he already knows how he’ll say goodbye.
“I’ll say I’m grateful,” he said. “And thank you for all of the opportunities along the way.”