Professional of the Year: Nancy Lea
Nancy Lea is one of those unique Alyeska Pipeline employees whose career has spanned all 800 miles of the system.
For years, at the original Operations Control Center in Valdez, she enjoyed mountain views and small-town life. Later, the OCC relocation to Anchorage meant Nancy moved too, adjusting to Alaska’s biggest city. And in 2019 when the opportunity arose to work as a maintenance supervisor at Pump Station 1, Nancy joined that team.
“I tend to jump in and figure it out as I go along,” Nancy said, reflecting on her various roles and responsibilities over the ears. “If I get bored, I start seeking out opportunities and new adventures. An early role model was an aunt who said, ‘Life is short, live big.’ I adopted that mantra. Nobody limits you. You only limit yourself. Life is wide open.”
The result of Nancy’s experience: she has a true system view of TAPS, an understanding she applies to her daily work and regularly shares with her peers at Pump Station 1. Since arriving there, Nancy’s coworkers say she has consistently looked for ways to improve processes and procedures. This leadership, on top of her years of experience, integrity, and ongoing contributions to TAPS, is why Nancy was named this year’s Atigun Awards Professional of the Year, an honor bestowed by Alyeska Interim President Betsy Haines.
“Betsy called me before I left off shift and of course I felt truly undeserving considering the past recipients,” Nancy said. “Betsy was in Oil Movements when I first started with Alyeska and stayed in my chain of command for many years. I have so much respect and admiration for her and feel very honored that she felt I was deserving of this award.”
With the Atigun Awards program now in its 10th year, the list of past Professionals of the Year recipients reads like a roster of TAPS all-stars – people from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.
Among them is Nancy’s Pump Station 1 alternate, Verne Griffis, who nominated Nancy for an Atigun. Verne credited Nancy’s efforts to share knowledge from her years of OCC experience with the Pump Station 1 team.
Nancy quite frequently will do an Operations Trivia in the control room, going through the various screens and quizzing the crew on particular operations, Verne said, in the nomination.
“It is hard to pick a category to nominate Nancy for,” he said. “She promotes teamwork, integrity and innovation in all the things she does at Pump Station 1.”
Nancy joined Alyeska in 1999. For the better part of two decades, she served as a Controller, Lead Controller, and Project and Maintenance Lead Controller at the OCC, the nucleus of the TAPS – first in Valdez, and later in Anchorage.
“I really enjoyed living and working in Valdez,” she said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places when the sun is shining.”
While in Valdez, OCC tackled some significant projects, including upgrading from a central control system with touchscreens to a more distributed control system with mice and keyboards.
“Strategic Reconfiguration was the most challenging, as we had both the current operating consoles and the new SR operating consoles in the same room,” Nancy recalled. “Trying to learn the new equipment while operating with the legacy system was a huge challenge.”
When the Pump Station 1 supervisor role opened up in 2019, she saw an opportunity to put her experience and ideas to the test, while also seizing a new adventure.
“One of the benefits of working at OCC is the chance to build relationships across the company,” Nancy said. “I gained tremendous respect for the personnel at Pump Station 1 through frequent interactions during projects and work activities which made it an easy decision to join the team.”
While the OCC and a pump station are very different facilities, they share commonalities too.
“I thought that I would have time to learn every nook and cranny and every detail about every piece of equipment at Pump Station 1, and that time has never materialized,” Nancy joked. “Just like OCC, it is non-stop from the time I get on shift until I get to hand the keys over to Verne.”
Nancy gives huge credit to Verne for supporting her transition to Pump Station 1 and helping her learn the ropes.
“His knowledge of Pump Station 1 is so superior to mine because he pretty much rebuilt it or helped rebuild it, so I rely heavily on his knowledge and his take on projects,” she said. “I definitely lean heavy on him and try to learn from his experience.”
Verne said everyone at Pump Station 1 has benefited from Nancy’s willingness “to share her knowledge and experience from operating TAPS for so many years. … I wish sometimes I was not her alternate so I could be in the room when she is teaching to gain the knowledge that she has.”
Nancy’s having the Techs to do Tech Talk presentations were inspired by her desire to learn more about the equipment and systems, while closing potential knowledge gaps resulting from either losing longtime operators and trainers, and ceding more operating control to OCC.
“My theory and hope is that knowing how things work or operates makes us safer,” she said. “I really like the opportunity to inspire or help others. I don’t take that lightly. I like being part of change for the better.”
Nancy also brought some well-learned best practices from the OCC to Pump Station 1. She implemented a “documentation folder” that improved communication between coworkers and shifts and enhanced organization around procedure reviews.
“The consistency from one shift to another in how the documentation is done saves time and money,” Verne said. “This is a direct reflection of her and her vision.”
Before coming to Alyeska, Nancy served in the Navy, and worked for a multi-product pipeline in the Lower 48. She remembers when she joined TAPS, a colleague deadpanned, “TAPS is one product and one pipeline. You’ll be bored in six months.”
“It’s been over 20 years and I can honestly say that I have never been bored at work,” she said. “I still feel the wow factor. Being able to crawl over jet engines when we take a TG apart and just the sheer size and variety of our equipment. I’m still super excited about all of our stuff. Even just walking outside sometimes, the spectacular sunset or herds of caribou – it’s uniquely beautiful out here. I don’t take it for granted.”