Safety First

About Us

David Luke Jr. / Pipeline Technician

Meet David Luke Jr., a longtime pipeline technician who loves his job and photography, and sharing his experiences and photos on TAPS with his family, friends and coworkers. Learn more about David and his work, how his passion for photography began, the story of David Luke "The Original," and more in this video.

Rod Hanson / Retired

It’s safe to say that most folks on TAPS have something great to say about Rod Hanson. After 30 years on TAPS, Rod is a special teammate and leader who seemingly did it all. Prior to Rod’s retirement earlier this year, past Alyeska president Tom Barrett selected Rod for the 2020 Atigun Award’s President’s Choice Lifetime Achievement honor. This summer, Rod reflected on the award, his time on TAPS, and how much his fellow pipeline people still mean to him. #TAPSPride

Nichole Gentz-Wilkins / System Wide Materials Supervisor

For more than 20 years on TAPS, Nichole Gentz-Wilkins has thrived as a tireless and thoughtful teammate who loves putting the pieces and people together for successful projects. She’s eager and even-keeled, fearless when it comes to taking on challenges, always available to support others, and a transparent and encouraging supervisor to her always-busy system-wide maintenance materials team. Nichole was recently named Alyeska’s Atigun Awards Professional of the Year, an honor she not only deserves, but embodies. Meet Nichole in Alyeska’s virtual Atigun Awards video. #TAPSPride

Sailor Williams / Instrumentation Technician

On TAPS, our talented technicians are the ultimate behind-the-scenes players, their work critical to safe and reliable pipeline operations. Last year, Alyeska added a Technician of the Year honor to its annual Atigun Awards. There’s no hiding behind the scenes for this year’s recipient: Sailor Williams. He’s a super-skilled, well-liked, problem-solving instrumentation technician at Pump Station 1. He’s known for his passionate ownership of his work while also jumping at opportunities to help others, troubleshoot and fix problems, and learn new things. Meet Sailor in Alyeska’s virtual Atigun Awards video. #TAPSPride

Kristen Nelson / Oil Movements Representative

Kristen Nelson of Alyeska's Oil Measurements team recently made industry history when she was named chair of the American Petroleum Institute's Standards Writing Body Committee on Petroleum Measurement. She is the first woman chair of an API main committee in the organization's 100-plus-year legacy. Learn about Kristen, her opportunity to chair an API committee and how it applies to Alyeska and TAPS, her work on TAPS and love of science, and how she hopes to inspire future STEM professionals in this video.

Dave Roberts / Engineer

Long before Dave Roberts was modernizing TAPS, he was marveling at the iconic pipeline’s critical components. In the mid-80s, Dave’s dad was a mechanical engineer supplying Alyeska with mainline valves and Dave was a curious observer starting down his own engineering path.

“I was just a little kid in the shop watching them working on valves and valve actuators, the tubing,” said Dave. “I grew up in the oil patch, around the oil business.”

Over the past 20-plus years, Dave has grown up professionally around TAPS and Alyeska. He’s worked on some of the pipeline’s oldest infrastructure, including a few of those valves. Today, he crafts innovations that create a safer, smarter pipeline for the future.

With those deep industry roots and one of the organization’s most unique system views of TAPS, Dave is the 2020 Atigun Awards Engineer of the Year.

“It’s definitely appreciated to be recognized among the peer community as a leader, if you will, in this type of level of engagement with our work,” he said. “We are very energetic about our work at this company.”

High levels of enthusiasm, imagination and engineering savvy are prerequisites in his current role on the Appraise team, where conceptual engineers envision the future of TAPS.

“Our team works on fringe projects – technically challenging, global-type projects and longshot, game-changing types of studies,” he said. “You can’t have every group in the company chasing longshots. This is an operating company, designed around low risk. We identify the longshots and apply the rigor to them.”

Swinging for the fences creatively and conceptually comes with extreme results, from big-time successes that significantly impact safety, efficiency, operations and savings to investing years in projects that are suddenly scrapped when it’s clear they simply won’t work.

“That’s why you engineer – you don’t cross your fingers and hope,” he said. “You do the conceptional work, work the research side of the fence and the practical side, too.”

One project imagined operating TAPS as a cold flow pipeline, allowing oil to drop below water’s freezing point, and developing a series of cold startup approaches. Those concepts stopped cold after years of work. Other ideas have included creating pressure-washing pigs that use brakes to provide ability to jet oil at the pipe wall to remove wax. They proved to be too risky. The team also developed pig washing infrastructure, or “hog washes,” to make wax removal at pump stations safer. That longshot hit the jackpot.

“We have a pig washing system at Pump 8 that is game-changing in our management of wax,” he said. Installation of a similar system at Pump Station 3 is expected in the future.

“The people who designed this over 40 years ago did an incredible job – they didn’t have computers or models for everything,” he said. “They did it by hand and overdesigned things, that’s why everything’s so robust. We don’t take any of it for granted. Optimizing how the old system works, creating new improvements and implementing them, that’s been exciting. But we’ve also found holes, redesigned things, and made them worse.”

Even before landing this role, Dave was innovating on TAPS.

After returning to Alaska from college and a brief engineering stint on the East Coast, he was hired by VECO, where he worked on TAPS projects with Alyeska engineers. In 1996, VECO sent the junior engineer to Valdez for a three-month assignment. He stayed nine years, six of them as an Alyeska employee, rising to automation engineer at the Terminal and system administrator who updated its control system.

Dave said, “We took a power plant that had a half dozen outages a year to now having an outage every few years.”

Since, he’s played key roles in other seminal TAPS projects, mostly out of Anchorage. He was so heavily involved in the TAPS Strategic Reconfiguration (SR) project that Alyeska moved him and his family to Edmonton, Canada, to work alongside a contractor’s SR experts for two years. He claims he was Alyeska’s first internationally-based employee.

“It was an epic experience,” he said. “My kids went to school there, rode the subway. It was a radical lifestyle change from Valdez.”

Years later, after returning to Alaska and getting most of the pump stations through SR startups, he shifted to his present position. The fascinating work, along with opportunities to mentor up-and-coming engineers and explore the outdoors along the pipeline route, keep him excited about the future of TAPS and his career.

“When I hired on with VECO, I never could have guessed I would have worked with Alyeska for more than three years,” he said. “I always figured it would get boring – it’s just a pipe. How can there be that much interesting work in something running for so many years and it does just one thing? But there’s been challenge after challenge. That’s kept me engaged: the continual chase of new problems to solve.”

When there’s an issue to solve involving an aging valve, Dave knows who to call.

“Even as I’ve progressed in my career, my dad still has so much more experience,” he said. “Any time we have a valve problem, I just go to the source.”

Dave is now the source of inspiration that his dad continues to be for him, as there’s another future engineer in the family: “My son is studying engineering,” he said, “so we’ll keep passing the torch.”

Julia Redington / Site Engineering Manager

Click here or the image above to watch the video.

Julia Redington, longtime Alyeska employee and current Site Engineering Manager, is an avid photographer who often travels, and takes photos of, the TAPS route. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our workplace, she shared some of her favorite photos from over the years while telling stories of our pipeline and the landscapes it shares, our work and her fellow coworkers, Alyeska’s environmental stewardship, #TAPSPride, and more. Thanks Julia!

Alaska's pipeline people / Keeping oil moving

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Gary Minish / Field Measurement Supervisor

Gary Minish is a Valdez-based Field Measurement Supervisor with 42 years and 3 months of service on TAPS. Today, he leads a small team of two measurement techs who monitor the performance of the metering and measurement systems at the Valdez Marine Terminal and the Petro Star connection. They track, trend and analyze overall system performance, ensuring that crude oil and fuel oil volume and quality determinations are accurate and meet the API standards used by the global industry. This also ensures that Alyeska’s leak detection systems, which depend on volume measurement, are consistently effective. Recently Gary answered some questions about current work, and how oil movements has evolved over the years.

Q: You’ve been involved with a major upgrade to the metering system along TAPS. How’s that going?

The EMAC (Electronic Measurement and Control) system upgrade has been a long and large project that replaces and enhances the electronic components of the older and completely obsolete measurement and control systems on TAPS. The first implementation was the incoming metering system at the VMT and the Petro Star metering system. Then, we moved up the pipeline to upgrade the North Pole, North Star and Kuparuk metering systems. The most recent upgrade project was the berth metering system back at VMT.

The upgrades started in 2008 and have evolved with significant design changes as we moved through the various projects and incorporated lessons learned from the earlier implementations. We still have one system left to upgrade (Sadlerochit), which will take place later this year.

Q: What are some of the benefits of the new system?

The primary benefits of the upgrades are:

·         Current electronic components that are available and maintainable

·         Improvements in the amount and availability of data from the measurement systems

·         Conversion from analog to digital field data in some systems, eliminating the criticality and maintenance hours of analog loop calibrations.

·         Additional sensors to detect valve seal failures eliminates manual verifications.

·         More flexible flow computer and server design will allow easier and faster modifications of core electronic and computer functions when requirements or standards change.

Q: Has metering changed over 40 years? How?

The core principles of metering/measurements have not changed much but the tools used to accomplish the execution of those core principles have changed drastically. When I initially got involved in oil measurements, prover calibration calculations were accomplished manually with no more than a 10 key basic calculator as a computational tool. Temperature and pressure compensation calculations used paper tables to determine correction constants and everyone involved typically came up with a different answer. Then we sat around and argued over the calculation methods until we determined who was correct. The initial custody transfer volume determination for the berth loadings was accomplished via hand gauging and sampling of tanks. Tank volume calculations were done manually also, using paper strapping tables and temperature correction tables.

Q: How have electronic measurements and control systems changed the way the work is done?

When the first electronic measurement and control system was installed it used a computer that had far less computational power than my HP-55 calculator, but it enabled us to use the meters for measurement instead of tank gauging which was a big relief for the operators at the time. Even with this improvement, we still had to operate the metering system valves with manual push buttons, and we had to perform manual meter proof operations and calculations.

Eventually, a new electronic system (designed by our oil measurement manager and Daniels Industry) was installed with individual flow meters and a supervisory computer plus a PLC to operate valves. I helped develop, test and implement that system. The automated metering systems enabled us to prove meters much more frequently, plus the data was more readily available and by analyzing that data, we soon learned more about meter performance than the manufacturers of the meter and applied that knowledge to minimize maintenance costs and significantly improve measurement accuracy. The process sensor technology (temperature & pressure sensors and transmitters) improved significantly over the years and further increased reliability and accuracy.

The Daniels metering systems lasted a remarkable 30 years but became unsupportable, leading to the new OMNI Flow Computer based systems that we are currently installing line wide. The establishment of sophisticated electronic metering systems on an international basis also resulted in requirements for new API standards to ensure consistency in methodology and measurement. Overall, it has been a continuous evolution and improvement process which has provided the challenges, learning and interest that has kept me here.

Q: What is something you wish everyone knew about oil movements/metering or your job?

Failures of the measurement systems have very little impact on the cost of operation for Alyeska but can have a very large impact to the bottom line of the oil owners. TAPS is a common carrier pipeline, which means that oil parcels shipped through it are mixed, and it’s oil measurement’s job to determine the volume and quality of oil as it enters the pipeline, and as it exits. Real dollars are exchanged between the affected parties based purely on our determinations. Since the volumes of the parcels are very large, even tiny errors in that determination result in monetary losses (and gains) that are quite significant. So that’s why measurement people are so concerned about the performance and reliability of the metering and measurement systems! 

Q: Do you have a favorite day on TAPS?

I have had so many “favorite” days that I don’t think I could pick one. My favorite type of day is one where I have learned something new and resolved a significant challenge.

Norb Chowaniec / Operations Engineer

Most people think of the trans-Alaska pipeline system as an 800 mile 4-foot-diameter steel pipe that at any point in time, carries over 9 million barrels of crude.
That’s not how Norb Chowaniec sees it. 
To Norb, the pipeline is 2.7 billion pounds of crude – a columnar mass of oil that crosses three mountain ranges in a dazzling exchange of energy, oscillating between slow and fast velocities and low and high pressures. Across TAPS, where conversations about work bring multiple disciplines to the table, Norb’s hydraulic engineering perspective proves unique and invaluable in managing some of TAPS most high-risk, high-profile, and high-intensity work. 
For that, and for a long legacy of contributions on TAPS dating back to the 1970s, Norb is this year’s Atigun Award winner for Engineer of the Year.  
Norb is proud of the role he plays in translating pipeline hydraulics into relevancy that helps teams across TAPS make risk-informed decisions. Take, for example, how we manage Inline Inspection Tool runs, commonly called ILIs. 
“When we’re doing ILIs over Atigun Pass, the crude column from Atigun to Pump Station 9 is roughly 1.2 billion pounds of crude,” Norb explained during a recent morning conversation in his office at OCC. “From Atigun into Pump Station 9, that’s the weight of about five aircraft carriers. This is where conservation of energy comes in. You’re constantly dealing with force; that 1.2 billion pounds is a unit of force. When you get your energy exchanges, knowing the when and where of changing pressures and velocities, that’s the path to truly understanding the partnership between conservation of energy and Bernoulli’s equation. 
“Knowing these things helps the OCC and the field do their job better, especially under abnormal operating conditions.” 
Like many on TAPS, Norb has enjoyed a professional history of evolving accountabilities. It all began when he was hired as a maintenance technician on December 13, 1976. Only four other Alyeska employees currently on payroll were hired before that.
Norb’s Midwestern grandparents were farmers who brought the family to Alaska in 1935 as part of the Matanuska Colony project. After graduating from Palmer High School, a draft notice had Norb enlisting into the Navy. Norb served aboard a destroyer escort, working on 1200-pound PSI boilers which provided electric generation and propulsion to the boat. The boat did serve in a combat zone. After that, he returned home to Alaska for a job at a coal-fired power plant at Clear Air Force Station in the Interior.
This background in power generation served him well in landing a job as a maintenance technician at the brand-new Power Vapor Facility on the Valdez Marine Terminal. 
“It was exciting times,” Norb recalled. “Brand new pipeline. Hadn’t even started up yet.”
Nearing the June 20, 1977, startup, the Power Vapor crew received loads of training and classes. Norb found himself at a journeyman level thanks to his prior work history. “But the lion’s share of new employees at Alyeska back then did not have that kind of experience.”
Times were very different then, Norb said – nothing like our working culture today. He was bothered in particular by how women were treated by male coworkers. Alyeska had committed that a certain quota of hires would be minorities , and some women were seizing that opportunity for high-paying jobs, even if they (along with the majority of their male counterparts) lacked industrial experience. Regardless, some men just didn’t like that, Norb said.  
“I remember one class on steam  generation, and the woman didn’t have any steam generation background. She started asking these guys for study-group help and they basically pushed her to the side. Well that wasn’t right. I said, ‘Come over here, I’ll help you do it.’” 
Forty years later, recalling that, Norb smiled, and said: “Two people got A’s in that class. The rest of them did not – not even close.” 
A turning point: in late fall 1979, at Pump Station 8, Norb spent almost three days in a deep ditch, bending over to wrap and reinsulate exposed process lines at -10 F. 
“Here I was in my late 20s, and after two-and-a-half days of bending over, putting this insulation on, squeezing it with your knees, putting this banding material on and squeezing it tight, my lower back was killing me,” he said. “And I thought, ‘You know, Alyeska is going to expect me to do this when I’m in my 50s – ugh.’” 
So, after some night schooling 1979 and 1980, Norb enrolled at University of Alaska in 1981. He would go on to be the first of his family to earn a college degree when he earned his Mechanical Engineering Degree in 1985.. 
“I come from a family of farmers, both sides,” he said. “Basically, the whole concept of higher education was not on our radar.”
At the time, Alaska forgave a generous portion of student loans when students remained in the state workforce for five years after graduation. That incentive meant the out-of-pocket cost to Norb would be around $12,000 for that degree. 
In hindsight, considering true economics, losses in wages and 401K contributions, “I think I set a world record for most expensive degree,” Norb said. “When you add it all up, my Bachelor of Science degree probably cost close to $350,000.” 
After graduating, Norb rejoined Alyeska as a BWT tech until an engineer position opened nine months later. He’s remained in engineering ever since.
“College surprised me in a couple of different ways,” Norb said. “As the math got more complicated I got better at it. I just never would have guessed that. It started dawning on me, we people are probably toughest on ourselves. There are hidden talents within us all and the only way you’re ever going to find those hidden talents is to reach down there and dig it out. You don’t know what you don’t know about yourself. And you have to challenge yourself to really see where you can go. That’s what I took away from college.” 
That willingness to challenge himself has defined Norb’s career. During his time on TAPS, he has lived in PLQs at Pump Stations 1, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12, has worked in Valdez a couple different times, at the Anchorage headquarters, in Fairbanks, and now is at the OCC.  
He retains fond memories of his office at Pump Station 12, the pretty views out his windows, spectacular Alaska scenery and the rolling mountains of the Chugach Range. One engineering job had him roving between Pump Stations 5 through 8, “just constantly going back and forth.”
His role as an engineer remains heavily influenced by his time as a technician. He respects the symbiotic relationship between the two disciplines and their dependence on each other for success. 
Between technicians’ experience and engineers’ academic discipline, you have what you need to solve a problem, Norb said. 
“The real key is communication,” he said. “Technicians have their hands on the process and if you ask the right question, the right answer comes out, and you can solve problems. Our educations are different, and our disciplines, the way we look at things are different, but at the end of the day we’re still working on the same system and I believe it’s the engineer’s responsibility to include the workforce in problem-solving and design improvements.”
Norb usually gets to work around 6:40 a.m., and first thing, visits the controllers in the inner sanctum of the OCC: the control room. 
“Even an off-handed comment by the people who have their hands on the mechanism, just overhearing that you can say, ‘Maybe I need to look into that,’” Norb said. “By becoming familiar with me, they don’t have any issues about asking any question and I think that benefits the company. At the end of the day, my job is to help them do their jobs successfully.” 
In 2008, Norb’s parents’ health prompted him to seek a work relocation from Fairbanks to Anchorage to be nearer to them. The only open position was a hydraulic engineer.  
“I always thought it was complicated,” he said. “I found out who the supervisor was and asked him if it would be OK if I gave it a try, he said, ‘Why not?’ It took two, maybe three years to get my feet on the ground with regards to hydraulics. It turns out it’s actually much simpler than I originally thought.”  
Now Norb sees the pipeline for its mass, its shifting energy, and the speed and pressure of the fluid. The contents of the mainline at any given time are equivalent in weight to 11 super aircraft carriers, as Norb puts it. 
Hydraulics come into play in the event of a leak, or potential for over-pressurization, when running ILI tools, or when conducting drain downs to isolate pipe sections for work. 
“If any time you were to stop the pipe, stop the column of crude and not do anything, it would break or overstress a bunch of pipe along the route,” Norb said.  
Norb is particularly proud of the careful hydraulic work around two shutdowns last summer that required opening the pipe twice to atmosphere to do check valve work. 
During the first shutdown, in April 2018, crews had to drain back more than 29,000 barrels of crude across about 2.6 miles of pipe into Pump Station 9’s Tank 190 to repair a check valve clapper shaft seal and address an emergent crude leak at Check Valve 92. 
At a second shutdown, in June 2018, teams drained back more than 47,000 barrels of crude within about 4.2 miles of pipe to replace the 6-inch bypass line and its two bypass valves at Check Valve 23. 
What transpired to make this work possible involved using a booster pump, pump station 1 and 3 relief tanks, and a reverse flow technique that Norb called “very, very abnormal” which moved a 420+ million-pound column of crude within roughly 124 miles of mainline pipe. 
“Not only were the procedures developed with the upmost care and concern for personnel and asset safety; they were spot-on in regards to drainback volumes, estimated time to complete the drainbacks, and associated pipeline pressures to expect once the drainbacks were completed,” said Hillary Schaefer, System Wide Maintenance Manager, in nominating Norb for an Atigun. “He knocked it out of the park! Norb’s knowledge of pipeline hydraulics and allowable pressures along the system is an extremely valuable asset.”
Crude oil system pressure boundaries were successfully and safely drained and depressurized, then re-pressurized during the course of the shutdown activities.
“The people in the field were the ones that had all the skin in the game and the risk,” Norb said. “If they open something and it’s not adequately drained down, they’d have oil all over the place. To safely do this type of work is at the top of everybody’s list. You make people aware of the forces they’re dealing with, talk about procedures with risk assessments and what have you, and the people out in the field implement it.”
Now Norb is in a position of mentoring other ops engineers, documenting his teachings, and working across the company to ensure the effects of pipeline hydraulics are factored into decision making, planning and work execution. 
Norb’s office tells the story of his longevity; a crystal award on his desk marks 20 years of service, and a framed certificate on his wall commemorates 35.  
He is preparing to retire – likely in a year or two. He’s seen others go that route and ended up returning to work because they’re unhappy or bored. So he’s exploring new hobbies, like taking dance classes, tutoring high school students, or having a miniature farm.
“I’m finding what you need to do is redefine what purpose is,” Norb said. “Purpose doesn’t have to be long-term commitments. You need to redefine it, and that’s work in progress for me.
“We each should be masters of our own destiny.” 
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