2016 ends with throughput increase for TAPS
The volume of oil moved through the Trans Alaska Pipeline System increased in 2016, the first calendar year-over-year increase since 2002.
This is welcomed news for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, TAPS' operator.
"More oil is the best long-term solution for sustaining TAPS, from a technical and operational standpoint," said Tom Barrett, Alyeska President. "It's also the best thing for Alaskans and our economy. Every barrel matters to us. The more throughput, the better we can plan for the continuing safe operation of the pipeline."
In 2016, TAPS moved 189,539,817 barrels and an average of 517,868 each day. That's nearly 4 million more barrels for the year than 2015's 185,582,715, and more than 9,000 barrels a day more than 2015's average of 508,446. Throughput in 2016 also surpassed totals in 2014 by more than 2 million for the year and 4,000 barrels a day on average.
Entering its 40th year of operations, the pipeline has mostly reported annual throughput declines since its peak flow of 2 million barrels a day in 1988. The only exceptions were slight year-to-year increases noted in 1991 and 2002.
Alyeska employees for years have worked to anticipate and respond to escalating challenges brought on by declining flow. Lower flow means slower-moving oil, which allows more potential for cooling temperatures, ice formation in the line, and for water and wax to drop out of the flow stream and accumulate.
While Alyeska has worked to adjust to lower flows, including adding heat to the pipeline and continually modifying pipeline pigging operations, the best-case scenario is bringing more oil to TAPS, Barrett said.
"We're supportive of an external environment that encourages responsible resource development and helps us sustain TAPS' flow level and work toward future throughput increases," Barrett said.
Fish streams: Mitigation at Moose Creek
This is the final installment of a three-part series on Alyeska's work with the hundreds of fish streams along TAPS. This work ranges from supporting and maintaining fish migration patterns to protecting TAPS to rebuilding waterways decimated by erosion and flooding.
Erosion and flooding are powerful forces, but thanks to the annual surveillances, surprises are rare.
Eight years ago, a glacial dam burst in the upper part of the Tazlina River, causing what Kenneth Wilson, Alyeska's Natural Resources SME, calls a "chute cutoff" or shortening of the river. Over the years, many tributaries were forced to adjust.
One of those tributaries is Moose Creek near Glennallen. Moose Creek's streambanks recently suffered significant erosion, including some of its worst just 90 feet from TAPS. Because of Alyeska's surveillance, teams were ready to respond.
"The Moose Creek project wasn't an emergency," Wilson said. "Integrity Management identified and monitored the issue for years before it could ever become a larger problem."
This summer, an Alyeska project crew launched erosion repair at Moose Creek. The crew used riprap and incorporated a habitat enhancement technique of embedding tree "root wads" at the creek edge. Those protruding tree roots provide overhead cover for juvenile salmon that migrate through the area.
The voids between the riprap were filled with streambed material to allow for reestablishment of vegetation and original streambank soil was spread along the surface. This created a seed source for repopulation of native plants. In the meantime, the short-lived annual grass holds soil in place.
Wilson credits Integrity Management for recognizing that the habitat could be enhanced by these repairs and the project team and Athna Construction for completing it successfully.
"Though it may not look like much right now, within a few years nature will have reclaimed this stretch of streambank," Wilson said. "We've created an ideal place for this to happen."
Wilson added: "Completing the Moose Creek project was necessary for protecting the pipe, but also for sustaining the environmental conditions in Alaska. Everyone on TAPS can be proud of this."
Fish streams: Serious surveillance, rapid repair
This is the second installment of a three-part series on Alyeska's work with the hundreds of fish streams along TAPS. This work ranges from supporting and maintaining fish migration patterns to protecting TAPS to rebuilding waterways decimated by erosion and flooding.
Maintaining fixed infrastructure like TAPS and its right of way in concert with wide-ranging, ever-changing environments like fish streams presents plenty of challenges.
Staff in Alyeska's Environment, Integrity Management and ROW Maintenance teams note that Mother Nature is the destructive force that most often alters waterways and affects its inhabitants: 30-plus fish species. Extreme weather events, flooding and erosion can be violent, unpredictable and the cause of disorder to fish habitat and stream crossings.
"Sometimes it feels like we are trying to protect the environment from itself," said Kenneth Wilson, Alyeska's Natural Resources SME. "It was impossible to predict all the changes in future stream movement when the pipeline was being constructed. So each year, Alyeska Right of Way and Integrity Management determine if a stream has migrated dangerously close to the pipe as a result of flooding and erosion. From there, the teams combine expertise to determine the best solutions that protect the fish and the pipeline."
Alyeska's Environment staff annually conducts fish stream surveillance, noting damage and potential problems. Environmental coordinators walk the streams looking for blockages, widened or rutted areas, excess gravel, vegetation or erosion issues, channel changes and fluctuations in fish populations.
Surveillance results from each stream are placed into one of three categories:
1. Fish passage OK
2. Monitor fish passage
3. Repair needed
Out of 686 fish stream structures surveyed in 2015, 532 provided adequate fish passage, 44 required monitoring and 110 needed some level of repair, including a handful that required immediate attention.
Wilson said that whenever possible, efforts are made to restore and improve fish habitat while also protecting the pipe. When streams require repair from flooding or erosion damage, team members utilize numerous techniques and special equipment. Some techniques are borrowed from other places and some have been developed to solve unique TAPS problems.
Traditional bank stabilization and river training structures use riprap to create barriers that prevent further devastation. Other efforts include salvaging and replanting vegetation along stream banks; placing topsoil and other materials along with riprap to encourage reinvasion of the area by native plants; installing willow cuttings and transplants; and placing large woody debris in the stream. Simple changes like planting annual grasses rather than perennial non-native grasses allow for a quicker return to nature.
"Alyeska has the right people to make this work successful, including several with master's degrees in Fisheries, Marine Biology, Wildlife Biology, Environmental Science and Engineering," Wilson said. "We also have the folks who know how to translate ideas into reality."
Lee McKinley, the Joint Pipeline Office Liaison for the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Habitat, understands the challenges and importance of Alyeska's work. He praised the organization following a preliminary inspection of fish streams from Pump Station 1 to Pump Station 5.
"I really appreciate Alyeska's efforts to ensuring fish passage along the right of way," he said. "I could tell a lot of extra efforts and attention to detail was performed at many of the sites that are typically problematic."
Fish streams: Teamwork sustains waterways, species along TAPS
This is the first installment of a three-part series on Alyeska's work with the hundreds of fish streams along TAPS. This work ranges from supporting and maintaining fish migration patterns to protecting TAPS to rebuilding waterways decimated by erosion and flooding.
Fish need to easily move up and downstream seasonally to reach critical habitat for spawning, overwintering and escaping predators. Salmon and other species that migrate miles from the sea to spawn in Alaska's rivers are critical to fish populations, the state's economy and quality of life for many Alaskans.
TAPS crosses hundreds of fish streams on its 800-mile route from the North Slope to Valdez, so there is an environmental obligation by Alyeska and the TAPS workforce to support and maintain fish migration patterns that have existed for thousands of years. Sustaining fish passage at drainage structures is a major consideration that dates back to the earliest pre-construction impact studies.
Today, Alyeska's Environment department works with Integrity Management and ROW Maintenance teams to monitor and protect the 30-plus fish species and their habitats along TAPS: hundreds of waterways and dozens more connecting to them.
"Many states have lost salmon species or declared them to be endangered due to overfishing and blocked migration routes," said Kenneth Wilson, Alyeska's Natural Resources SME. "Alaska has the chance to get this right and have abundant fish far into the future. Alyeska is a part of this success story. Knowing if there is a problem and getting it fixed is how we do that."
Alyeska's commitment to environmental excellence is embodied in its fish stream surveillance and repair work. This prevents potential impacts caused by work activity, as well as ensures that work along TAPS complies with rules and regulations set internally and by numerous external agencies, including Alaska's Department of Fish and Game.
"Alyeska takes compliance and regulations very seriously," Wilson said. "But environmental regulations by themselves don't tell you the right way to do things. Ethical components are also involved beyond those regulations. Alyeska's job is to safely move oil from the North Slope to Valdez; our job is also to take care of the environment along the way."
Wilson added that work constantly evolves and improves. Annual surveillance of drainage structures has developed into a cooperative, interdisciplinary effort between environmental coordinators, pipeline and civil maintenance coordinators and baseline foremen. Use of the ROW Maintenance Information System allows tracking of surveillance findings and the repair work identified. And tracking of labor and materials allocated for drainage structure repairs is organized line-wide so resources can be applied where needed the most and project crews and baseline crews can be utilized most efficiently.
Alyeska President Tom Barrett sent the following message to Alyeska employees Nov. 9 in response to an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News ("Alaska pipeline can operate without offshore Arctic oil").
You may have read an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News (titled "Alaska pipeline can operate without offshore Arctic oil") claiming TAPS' current throughput level "does not have great significance from an operational standpoint." That assertion is flat wrong; it's one of several inaccuracies in the piece and totally ignores broader implications of declining TAPS throughput for everyone in Alaska.
Declining throughput – an operational reality for TAPS since the late 1980s – impacts us daily. We know every barrel counts when it comes to safely, reliably, and efficiently operating TAPS. TAPS personnel work with this reality every day and have delivered innovative, creative work over the years to adjust our operations and respond to declining flow. Straight lining several pump stations, installing new variable speed pumping systems, changing how and when we run pigs, adding heat, using legacy piping to recirculate oil and add heat, and adding methanol injection ports are just some of the steps – expensive steps – we have taken. The only easy day on TAPS was yesterday. For a third party to claim that declining throughput "does not have great significance" to us, the operators of TAPS, is out of touch with our reality and just plain wrong.
"TAPS pride" infuses TAPS personnel and the good work we do together every day. Our work carries risks, but we manage those risks at an exceptional level and have a strong environmental record to stand on. From an operator standpoint – and as the pipeline operator, we are uniquely qualified to speak to this – more oil is the best thing for TAPS sustainability now and into the future. We should not limit options when we look forward at what oil reserves exist onshore, near shore and offshore Alaska that could be developed safely and delivered safely via proven pipeline infrastructure.
Here are some other errors the op-ed contains:
- The op-ed cites studies that claim TAPS operations could be sustained at 135,000 barrels per day or even as low as 100,000 barrels per day.
This is a naïve, ill-conceived, academic perspective that does not reflect real-world pipeline operations in Alaska. It is based on antiquated data and research that examined only certain economic aspects of TAPS, not our actual operational parameters or context.
We have aggressively investigated low-flow operations at actual pipeline testing sites and know that substantial additional work, innovation and spend will be required to safely and reliably operate TAPS at a throughput level of 300,000 barrels a day or lower. TAPS throughput currently averages around 510,000 barrels a day. Even now at that level, we face the continual challenge of developing solutions to many unique operational problems, like keeping oil above temperature thresholds and managing potential ice, water and wax accumulation.
- The op-ed implies that offshore drilling in federal waters and even on federal land is hazardous, would endanger sensitive areas and permanently impact the environment.
The same argument was made more than 40 years ago about the construction and potential operation of TAPS. Today, and for decades, TAPS and its workers have built and operated strong, reliable infrastructure that coexists with Alaska's special environment, as well as the people, wildlife and communities along its route. Alyeska employees take great pride in protecting this environment. That commitment is reflected in our workforce's professional passion and has been recognized by many state, national and worldwide environmental and ethics awards. Over-the-top and speculative assertions made by environmentalists when they tried to block TAPS construction were wrong then and are wrong now.
- The op-ed asserts that withholding new Arctic Ocean leases will not impact the long-term operation of TAPS.
Every barrel counts for TAPS, whether from offshore, near-shore or on-land sources. Increased throughput means warmer, faster-moving oil in the pipe and fewer of the current operational low-flow challenges. Increased Alaska production has positive implications beyond TAPS. It strengthens Alaska's and America's energy security in a complicated, treacherous geopolitical energy landscape. It helps Alaska's critical bottom line – much of the state budget and one-third of all jobs in the state are tied to the oil and gas industry. Oil exploration, production and throughput equal more jobs for Alaskans and a stronger economy for Alaska and the United States.
- The op-ed implies that the federal government and a handful of agencies know what's best for Alaska land and offshore waters.
The oil industry isn't the only strong proponent for new, safe exploration in the Arctic. The Consumer Energy Alliance found that 73 percent of Alaskans support developing the Arctic offshore for oil and gas. Inupiat people who live on the North Slope and hunt and fish in the Arctic waters are among those who support that development.
I want to leave you with this thought: while we debate the operational capacities of TAPS in relation to throughput and consider what resources to bring online, we are having the wrong conversation. Ask yourself, what kind of Alaska do you want to live in? If certain special interest groups had their way long ago, TAPS would never have been built. Imagine that reality: billions of dollars for schools, roads, parks and projects would never have touched the state budget; tens of thousands of jobs would never have existed; entire communities would not have flourished and grown; hundreds of nonprofits wouldn’t have benefited from industry contributions. If they had succeeded in blocking TAPS, there would be no arguments today about the size of the dividend. There wouldn’t be any dividend.
Could we operate at 100,000 barrels a day? This is really the wrong question. Ask yourself instead, what would Alaska look like at 100,000 barrels a day? The pipeline has changed the nature of our state and the quality of life for Alaskans for the better; sustaining it for decades to come is in the best interest of all of us.
Thank you so much for the work you do, every day, to help fuel Alaska and the nation.
Terminal's historic Berth 1 decommissioned
An iconic piece of TAPS infrastructure with a connection to the construction era and busiest days of pipeline operations was recently decommissioned.
When the last of Berth 1's four loading arms was removed and lowered to the ground near the Valdez Marine Terminal last month, it marked the berth's last breath. Now all that remains of Berth 1 are the floating platform and some small buildings.
"It's definitely not a berth anymore," said Linda Lee, a Terminal Operations Field Trainer who has worked for Alyeska in Valdez for 25 years.
Tales of TAPS construction usually focus along the 800-mile pipeline route, but the creation of the 1,000-acre Valdez Marine Terminal was a historic feat in its own right.
There, four loading berths were built – Berths 1, 3, 4 and 5. (During construction, the Terminal was scalable and TAPS peak production was unknown, so ultimately Berth 2 was never built. From certain angles of the Terminal, you can clearly see space for it between Berths 1 and 3. The reason that the existing berths weren't renumbered was more administrative than bad math. By the time it was decided Berth 2 wasn't needed, tens of thousands of TAPS and Terminal drawings, documents and procedures had been created – every single one of them would need to be updated. This was obviously long before Microsoft Word and its Find/Replace and Copy/Paste shortcuts. So, in the words of Laura Meadors, Terminal Operations Manager, "We just moved on.")
The world's biggest berth
Berth 1 held the distinction as the Terminal's only floating berth – the other three had fixed platforms. In fact, when it was built in the '70s by Nippon in Japan, Berth 1 was the world's largest floating berth and the largest single prefabricated component of the pipeline. It weighed 6.5 million pounds and was approximately 43 feet long, 59 feet high and 108 feet wide. The berth's girth allowed it to handle tankers of up to 120,000 metric tons of dead weight.
It was kept afloat by 13 buoyancy chambers, each approximately 45 feet long and 25 feet in diameter. Its four arms, all of which could transfer crude or ballast water, weighed approximately 100,000 pounds apiece.
Berth 1 was delivered to Valdez from Japan on a semi-submergible barge. Upon its arrival, the barge was sunk across the bay from the Terminal and the berth was tugged into place. Designed for its deep water location by Fluor Ocean Service, the berth was anchored to bedrock on the shore and by struts which supported a roadway and walkway.
Once operational, a unique facet of Berth 1 was that two of its loading arms were also capable of transferring fuel to onshore Tanks 55 and 56. Offloaded from barges, the fuel was used to help power the Terminal and its facilities.
A slow decline and a final snow show
Over the years, declining throughput led to lower tanker traffic at the Terminal, which is one of the reasons why Berths 1 and 3 have been out of service since the early 2000s. And as the Terminal welcomed larger, more modern tankers, Berth 1 was suddenly too small to host some of them. Even its fueling task was eventually taken away – now, trucks deliver fuel to the Terminal.
The Berth 1 decommissioning began in 2001, when it no longer handled transfer operations and started being used strictly as a "lay berth" where tankers could wait out bad weather or icy conditions and where minor repairs to tankers could take place. In 2003, boats stopped docking there and in 2004, the final cleaning of the berth's piping took place, along with electrical isolation and the removal of fire suppression systems.
But Berth 1 still had one last gasp of notoriety. During the historic snow dump of winter 2011-12 in Valdez, so much snow accumulated on the berth so quickly that it began sinking. Equipment couldn't be safely brought on to clear the snow. When it was noticed that the inspection hatches in the buoyancy chambers were going under water, a SERVS team brought a tug over and used its 5,000-gallons-per-minute fire monitor to blast the snow off.
Occasionally, companies inquired about purchasing the berth. There's even a rumor that it was once put on eBay. But even if it was sold, it couldn't be towed away. Its unique design did not make it a hydrodynamic structure.
"It does look different without the arms, but it's still there," Meadors said. "I think people would have been really nostalgic if it went away entirely."
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.