Resilience revisited: TAPS and the Denali Fault Earthquake
November 3, 2017, was the 15th anniversary of the 7.9 magnitude Denali Fault Earthquake. To mark the milestone, the U.S. Geological Survey shared a 2003 fact sheet that revisited the event, explored the earthquake's impact and noted the resilience of TAPS. The report begins:
A powerful magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Alaska on November 3, 2002, rupturing the Earth's surface for 209 miles along the Susitna Glacier, Denali, and Totschunda Faults. Striking a sparsely populated region, it caused thousands of landslides but little structural damage and no deaths. Although the Denali Fault shifted about 14 feet beneath the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, the pipeline did not break, averting a major economic and environmental disaster. This was largely the result of stringent design specifications based on geologic studies done by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others 30 years earlier. Studies of the Denali Fault and the 2002 earthquake will provide information vital to reducing losses in future earthquakes in Alaska, California, and elsewhere. …
The Denali Fault earthquake ruptured the Earth's surface for 209 miles, crossing beneath the vital Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, which carries 17% of the U.S. domestic oil supply. Although slightly damaged by movement on the fault and by intense shaking, the pipeline did not break in the quake, averting a major economic and environmental disaster. This success is a major achievement in U.S. efforts to reduce earthquake losses.
TAPS throughput totals increase for second consecutive year
The volume of oil that moved through the Trans Alaska Pipeline System increased in 2017, marking the second straight calendar year-over-year increase. The 2016 upturn was the first since 2002.
In 2017, TAPS moved 192,472,797 barrels at an average of 527,323 barrels daily. Compared to 2016’s throughput – 189,539,817 barrels total and 517,868 barrels daily average – the year-over-year total increase was 1.5 percent. The 2016 total increase over 2015 (185,582,715 barrels) was 2.1 percent. The recent upward trend of TAPS throughput is positive news for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the TAPS' operator, and for Alaska.
"More oil flowing through TAPS means a safer, more efficient and more sustainable pipeline system,"said Tom Barrett, Alyeska President. "Increased throughput also signals a stronger economy for Alaska and more opportunities for Alaskans."
In 2017, Alyeska celebrated its 40th anniversary of operations following startup on June 20, 1977. At the close of 2017 operations, the cumulative total of barrels moved since startup was 17,648,210,557. In recent years, TAPS has faced escalating challenges brought on by declining flow, which leads to slower-moving oil and the potential for cooling temperatures, ice formation in the line, and water and wax to drop out of the flow stream and accumulate. Alyeska teams have worked to adjust to the lower flows, including adding heat, monitoring winter operating temperatures and modifying pipeline pigging operations. But the best-case operations scenario is bringing more oil to TAPS.
"We benefit from an external business and regulatory environment that supports increased, responsible exploration and production on the North Slope and in the Arctic," Barrett said. "North Slope operators are leveraging efficiencies and technology to increase production and discover new oilfields. All of these efforts play into increases in TAPS' flow levels."
Statue of limitations: Iconic, but hefty, monument moves
The stern-but-hopeful crew that has stoically guarded the Valdez Marine Terminal since 1980 is no longer.
Fear not -- TAPS' stellar security team is still on the job. But the iconic pipeline monument, commonly known as "The Statue," was removed from the Terminal on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Alyeska, with support from the TAPS Owners, donated the famous statue to the City of Valdez in commemoration of TAPS' 40th Anniversary.
The 37,000-pound pipeline statue was sculpted from bronze by Malcolm Alexander (1924-2014). It represents the 70,000 workers who designed and built the pipeline over the three years and two months. There is the surveyor, engineer, laborer, welder and Teamster; the laborer is an Alaskan Native and the Teamster is a woman. Next to the statue, a plaque reads, "We didn't know it couldn't be done."
The statue stood watch over the Valdez Marine Terminal since installation in September 1980. Though originally positioned outside of the security boundary of the Terminal, the security gate was moved after September 11, 2001, and the statue has been off limits to the public ever since. Back when it remained accessible to the public, visitors and employees alike regularly posed at the monument's base for photos. After the change in security access, it continued to be a favorite stop for those working on Terminal.
Over several months, Alyeska and the city officials worked diligently to move the massive structure, nimbly adjusting to a few complications like an unknown weight, a base constructed from 1200 psi concrete and the need for specialty contractors to assist with removal. Alyeska safety crews made sure that the work to remove was done with caution and care. When the statue finally made its way out the gate, employees and Alyeska firetrucks sent it off with one final salute.
Finally, on a rainy August morning, North Star, a local company who had contracted with the city to pick and move the statue, arrived on terminal. They fastened crane slings to pre-installed bolts on the base of the statue. Over the course of eight minutes, the crane picked the statue up and gently moved it over to a waiting truck. When the statue finally made its way out the gate, employees and Alyeska firetrucks sent it off with one final salute.
Later this fall, the statue will be installed at the Kelsey Dock where it can continue to watch over the Terminal from across the bay.
Alyeska investigating crude release at Valdez Marine Terminal
Alyeska is responding to a release of crude oil onto water at the west end of the Valdez Marine Terminal near Berth 5.
Crews have secured the source of the spill. Crews at Berth 5 on the Terminal reported seeing sheen on water at around 11:30 a.m. today.
Alyeska stood up an Incident Management Team. Teams on scene have boomed the area where sheen was visible and are carrying out spill response and recovery tactics, including skimming.
9-22-17 Photo #1 of Valdez Berth 4 and 5
This photo is from the air, looking west.The shore of the Valdez Marine Terminal is in the left corner of the photo, Berth 4 is in foreground and Berth 5 is in the background.Boom from shore along Berth 4 is visible, as is additional booming around Berth 5. Response vessels are in between the berths, and beyond Berth 5. The photo also shows the sheen between the berths.
9-22-17 Photo #2 of Valdez Berth 4 and 5
This photo is looking southeast towards the Marine terminal. Berth 5 is in the foreground, Berth 4 is in the background, boom and response vessels are visible as well as a sheen between the berths.
9-23-17 Photo #3 Berth 4 and surrounding area
Responders use a Current Buster and sorbent boom to collect rainbow sheen that has been contained near the Valdez Marine Terminal. Photo shows Berth 4 and the surrounding area.
9-23-17 Photo #4 of Berth 4 and 5
Response personnel actively work to contain and collect rainbow sheen near the Valdez Marine Terminal. Yellow containment boom is used to concentrate oil so it can be picked up.
9-25-17 Photo #17
Looking southeast toward the Valdez Marine Terminal, Berth 5 is in the foreground and Berth 4 is in the background. Crews have deployed white absorbent boom along the shoreline of the Terminal, which will collect any remaining sheen as the area cycles through tides.
9-25-17 Photo #18
An overhead view of the area between Berths 4 and 5 on the Valdez Marine Terminal shows the narrow area where remaining sheen is in front of the Main Firewater Building, the structure onshore, lower left. The sheen is controlled by white absorbent boom, which will collect any remaining sheen as the area cycles through tides.
Tanana River Drill: Combined resources, shared successes
Major spill response exercises on TAPS involve months of planning, multiple teams and dozens of people, and immense expectations that Alyeska meet its commitments to protect Alaska in a pipeline emergency.
These exercises are also a chance to shine. Employees from across the company join together with TAPS contractors and representatives from state and federal agencies and others. Together, they demonstrate expertise, skills, and above all, compassion and energy toward safety and shielding Alaska's environment.
This high performance level was on display at the Aug. 9 Combined Resource Exercise on the Tanana River. The Tanana River exercise simulated an oil leak as the result of sabotage in piping on the north bank of the river; the scenario had oil leaking into the river, and called on TAPS' mightily trained fleet of responders. In all, about 175 people were involved, heralding from the Fairbanks Response Base, PS9/DRB, GRB, SERVS, Anchorage, Valdez, and multiple state and federal agencies.
"Exercises are like pipeline shutdowns in that teams face a tremendous task in a compressed time period with a lot of expectations and no shortage of scrutiny," said Hillary Schaefer, Alyeska's Pipeline Director and the Incident Commander for the exercise. "I'm proud to say that all objectives were met, and this success was the result of a significant amount of collaboration and teamwork."
The Tanana River crossing is one of TAPS' prettiest and most photographed areas, a picturesque suspension span that gleams and glints from the north to south bank as the pipeline approaches Pump Station 9.
The Aug. 9 exercise was unique for its notable scope and field presence. A large Incident Management Team assembled in Fairbanks, as the Mobile Command Post stood up at Pump Station 9. From there, two Alyeska helicopters ran air ops missions along the Tanana, nimbly conducting surveillance and shuttling materials.
Meanwhile, in Delta Junction, a sleepy highway crossroads town with an official population of fewer than 1,000 people, Alyeska responders sprang into action. That day, they launched 14 river vessels, the largest deployment to date for this kind of exercise.
Joining together to work in four unique task forces, all boats were in the water shortly after 8 a.m. – a swift and skillful deployment from the boat ramp at the Tanana Crossing. That ramp is seen clearly from the Richardson Highway.
This visibility also made this exercise unique, as many of TAPS' field deployments happen in remote locations. Several motorists pulled over to take pictures, including vacationing tourists and a geocacher. Several area residents stopped by to chat with Alyeska staff before boating downriver to shoreline cabins.
"Because much of the response was visible to the public in the Delta area, we made sure to give our neighbors advanced notice about our planned activities," Schaefer said. "We maintained a friendly and informative presence on scene to answer any questions."
The day wasn't without challenges. Responders were frequently cautioned that the river was running deep and fast and cold – conditions that could have altered or sidelined some spill response tactics. Teams remained alert, conducted all tasks, and in the end, task forces were afforded a chance to deploy a new kind of river buster.
"That was exciting for our field teams – especially since their work was conducted in such challenging conditions, with the river running at higher-than-normal volumes, requiring us all to be extra vigilant about safety," said Earl Rose, Alyeska's Oil Spill Coordinator and the Operations Section Chief for the exercise. "Everyone involved should be proud of how they demonstrated Alyeska's commitment to protecting Alaska."
Sun and fun at Pump 1 run
It is certainly one of the country's more unusual 5Ks.
There are no race bibs, medals or trophies. There are no challenging ascents, finish-line DJs, and definitely no beer garden when it’s all over.
But what the annual Pump Station 1 Fun Run lacks in normalcy, it more than makes up for with its incomparably iconic setting, all-hands-on-deck enthusiasm, and unmistakably merry vibe. This 20-year tradition at the northernmost point of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is going strong. The first pair of fun runs unfolded July 17, with the next at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 31.
Why two per day on two days, two weeks apart? Because as is the case with most things in "the field" for Alyeska Pipeline, consideration is given to making sure both shifts of employees are included. And in the case of the PS1 Fun Run, it isn’t just about the TAPS workers. Hundreds of employees from all across the North Slope arrive by truck and bus to join in this unusual, incredible, one-of-a-kind run.
"They show up no matter what," said Hal Eppley, a PS1 materials coordinator and long-time event planner. "Mosquitoes, rain, wind – it doesn't matter. We've just tried to carry it on. My fear is always, 'Are people going to come?' And they always do."
Many North Slope employees never see Pump Station 1 up close. The Fun Run is their chance.
While they don't get inside the fence, they tightly circle the perimeter and embark from the Milepost 0 sign where TAPS shoots up from the ground and starts its snaking 800 mile journey south. Often a photo-op stop for VIPs and stakeholders, there's a wooden gazebo on site here with historical TAPS signs, and several pigs on display, too.
"It is TAPS so it is special – it's Milepost 0!" Hal added, "People don't just come and run and take a T-shirt and leave. They hang out and take pictures, they see the gazebo and the pigs. It's a big deal. This is where all the oil and the work on the North Slope comes into one place and it’s really an opportunity for people to see the pipeline."
Participants walk, stride, trot and sprint along the Right of Way gravel pad, TAPS running right alongside them. Pump Station 1 recedes at their heels for the first half. Then, as racers turn at the halfway point and head back, the pump station is a looming and enlarging beacon on the horizon, notable for its beacon flare stack and two massive crude tanks.
At the July 17 event, hundreds flocked to the station to participate. Some had changed into running gear – slick pants and neon shorts, athletic tops and light tennis shoes. Others lumbered along in groups, jovial, still wearing FRC coveralls, safety glasses and steel-toe boots.
At times, it's probably one of the most peaceful 5Ks in the world. In the lags between large crowds, there is nothing but the sound of the wind moving the long tundra grass, the crunch of gravel underfoot, and the occasional birdsong.
This is a race where a 20 mph wind is a good thing – it keeps the mosquitos at bay! It's also a route where one might see not only other racers, but caribou, ducks, fox, swans, even an occasional bear.
While participants don’t get medals, runners who complete the course earn a limited edition Fun Run T-shirt. Kyle Siddoway, an electrical instrumentation technician with a creative side, has helped design the T-shirts the last few years. Great Alaska T-Shirts in Fairbanks produces them.
This is how it goes for the whole PS1 Fun Run; everyone on station chips in. Whether it's grooming the ROW gravel pad, grilling food, designing T-shirts, directing traffic or patrolling the route for anyone in need of assistance the entire PS1 crew is on board, displaying the teamwork the team here is known for.
BP, Kaparuk and Ice Services also host runs, and the PS1 crew tries to make a showing, Hal said. It's fun to see other camps, he said, "And we like to hit the other camps' spike rooms."
"Spike rooms" are camp hot spots where snacks and treats are available 24/7. On the Slope, where good food is incredibly important, the PS1 crew offers up a barbecue during the Fun Run. This year’s menu included chili, chips, watermelon, and juicy hot dogs.
Nearby, all the past shirts from past Fun Runs adorned a wall. Most involved a motif with some kind of cartoon pig and the pipeline, in various bright colors. Many stopped to admire them between bites of Bratwurst and race recaps.
Indeed, while at other Slope 5Ks, people tend to run and eat and head back to camp, those at Pump Station 1 often linger, stopping to inspect the pigs and read the gazebo signs, to take photos and selfies, linger for barbecue after, and truly get an eyeful of the station that is the start of the famous TAPS.
The crew at PS1 basks in what is really their annual open house and a chance to show others on the Slope a good time.
"The whole PS1 team jumps in and does what they can to support it," Hal said. "It is the coolest 5K, and we have the nicest pad. This year was particularly great. And the mosquito count is way down."
Will you be in Prudhoe Bay on July 31? If so, the second and final round of PS1 Fun Runs kick off from the station at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Environment, Milepost 18 mainline investigation team
Inspecting underground segments of TAPS is complicated and occasionally frustrating work, to say the least. Inspecting a section of underground pipe set along some of the most unpredictable and unrelenting waterways in one of the roughest and coldest areas on the 800-mile TAPS route – well, that’s Atigun Award-worthy work.
A diverse group of Alyeska staff and TAPS contractors and subcontractors safely and successfully completed never-before-done-on-TAPS work so that a segment of difficult-to-reach pipe could be inspected, sandblasted, coated and buried properly. They did it with teamwork, innovation and grit. Despite a unique and daunting project plan, they worked with an extraordinary level of environmental stewardship, regulatory compliance and safety.
This is being celebrated with a 2017 Atigun Award for Environment, which recognizes achievements in environmental protection, habitat enhancement, regulatory compliance or pollution prevention. The project was also recently honored by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association with its Project of the Year for Environmental Stewardship and Innovation Award.
"It was a monumental effort – that's about the best way I can put it," said Jim Fowler, a longtime Ahtna Site Supervisor. "A crazy amount of work. Millions of gallons of water. Environmental challenges. Weather to contend with. The first time driving steel sheet piling to do a mainline excavation. This was pretty much unheard of."
At TAPS Milepost 18, the pipeline and Dalton Highway closely parallel the cantankerous Sagavanirktok (Sag) River and are sandwiched by tundra ponds. During some spring break-ups, the Sag River floods the area and beyond with water, ice and other material. In 2015, an extreme flooding event wiped out stretches of the Dalton Highway and the TAPS right of way. It was so powerful, it exposed buried TAPS mainline and the fuel gas line in numerous locations. At PLMP 18, the flooding exposed and scoured mainline pipe that was buried nearly 10 feet deep.
Following the flood, the pipe needed inspection. Over the following year, plans and even an attempt to reach it were unsuccessful due to massive volumes of water, rough weather and hazardous safety factors.
Clearly, conventional excavation and dewatering techniques would not work here.
A geotechnical survey by Shannon & Wilson noted three huge water sources moving millions of gallons around the area every day: surface water in a fish stream; a bulb of water around the warm TAPS line; and an aquifer seemingly everywhere. These aren’t ideal factors for creating a dry trench that needs to be 15-17 feet deep, and long and wide enough to allow safe working conditions.
A variety of plans were considered: Perhaps divers could reach it? Ultimately, a group decided on a brand new approach for TAPS: drive 40-foot steel sheet pilings into the ground beside the pipeline, creating walls to allow excavation while blocking water and providing safety. Before that work could begin, though, a series of other difficult tasks had to be handled: a pad expansion built to support drilling and crane operations; six 30-plus-feet deep dewatering wells drilled; settling ponds constructed; water pumps placed; 36-inch culverts installed to maintain fish passage; and more than 10 permits and amendments obtained.
"We were really cautious," explained Patty Miller, the project lead from Alyeska Engineering and Projects. "We checked and double-checked everything before we started."
Work execution would start in September, when the Sag River and area's water table is at its lowest, and continue into November. Unpredictable weather could play a factor, but that's the risk of working in the fall and early winter in the Arctic.
Turns out, the weather mostly cooperated – hardcore winds stopped work for only a few days. The water volume, as predicted, was immense. Four million gallons per day was discharged, totaling 127 million gallons over the course of the work.
Alyeska's Dave Schmidt provided perspective: "The volume of water discharged would have filled more than 100 Olympic-size swimming pools and there would have been enough extra water to fill all the hot tubs in California."
But the plan, pools, pumps, piles and people worked. The effort was virtually seamless, totally safe and environmentally sound.
"We were pumping absolutely crystal clear drinking water," said Fowler of Athna. "That's pretty unique for a mainline excavation."
Planning, teamwork and high-quality work were keys to the success. Alyeska's Miller oversaw the project with the help of Hawk construction managers; Shannon & Wilson, Coffman Engineers, Mark Anderson Engineering and Alyeska staff developed the engineering package; Athna was the primary implementation contractor, providing a wide variety of work, support and leadership; subcontractors GF Back and Precision Crane led the wells and pilings work; Merrick provided onsite locates and delineations while Shannon & Wilson returned for additional refinements; TEAM Industrial handled inspections; Houston Contracting Company provided electrical work on the water pumps; and numerous Alyeska teams played essential roles – Right of Way, Environment, Safety, Risk Integrity Management, Project Controls, Supply Chain (Materials, Transportation and Facilities, Contracts), Legal, pump station staff and more.
"And it really did take all of us to get it done right," said Kate Montgomery, Alyeska's Pump Station 1-4 Environment Coordinator.
Even with all that planning and talent, the condition of the pipe remained the ultimate unknown. Upon reaching it, there was a collective sigh of relief.
There was some tape damage and three minor mechanical repairs required, but "it was very, very minor," said Rich Staley, Hawk Construction Manager.
After the pipe work, Athna tied a bow on the project – carefully and skillfully backfilling the site, demobilizing the ponds and repairing the right of way.
"We buried the pipe and put the site back to better than new condition," said Athna's Fowler.
"I am proud to have been a part of this project," Miller said. "There were many challenges, but with a great team of people focused and working collaboratively, things turned out well."
Montgomery added, "It really was pretty amazing. This was one of the most challenging digs around."
The individuals being recognized with this Atigun Award are: Ahtna's Ryan Ackels, Brandon Ante, Bret Bradley, Darryl Deacon, Jaysen Ewan, Jim Fowler, Anthony Giovanni, Harry John, Steve Parker, Brian Pitcher, Frederico Salinas-Johns, Mark Still, Carl Weed, Lynette Woellert, Doug Rock, Stewart Lord, Jon Burns, Joshua Bartholomew, James McKay and Chris Vaden; Hawk Consultants' Rich Staley, Arnold Bell Lincoln and Larry Ladd; Merrick's Larry Sinyon, Robert Johnson, Andrew Garrett, Travis Cronin and Patrick Toms; Precision Crane's Thomas Gillen and Jimmy Blevins; Shannon & Wilson's Paul Van Horne; TEAM Industrial Services' Grant Harpstrieth and Norm Daneri; Alyeska's Peter Nagel, Kate Montgomery, Cathy Girard, Kalu Kalu, Patricia Miller, Shaune O'Neil and Jim Criner (retired); and GF Back's Gerald Back, Tadd Hartford, Michael O'Brien, Dorran Masters and Andrew Gingrich.
Health and Safety, PS1 gas leak repair team
When a gas leak rose unexpectedly last winter at Pump Station 1, personnel were immediately on edge.
Careful monitoring found gas venting into the Compressor Building vestibule through a concrete seam between foundation slabs; and it was slowly expanding in greater amounts over a wider area. Gas fumes and the accompanying stench of mercaptan (a harmless but stinky additive that indicates leaking gas) wafted into the PS1 Control Room and adjoining hallways. Crews opened doors and set up temporary heating and ventilation equipment to purge gas during the cold North Slope November.
Concerns mounted – the leak could worsen and disrupt gas delivery around PS1. The fuel gas arriving from BP operating fields powers the station's turbines, blankets the crude oil storage tanks to safely exclude oxygen from the tank vapor space, fires the massive flare, and heats buildings. It also travels beyond PS1 in the TAPS Fuel Gas Line, providing fuel for a variety of heating, operations, communications and safety purposes at PS2, PS3 and PS4.
Gas cannot simply be turned off for long at PS1 and there was no easy fix for this leak, either. After leaving the PS1 Gas Building, fuel gas weaves around PS1 in hundreds of feet of underground legacy piping.
A unique solution had to be developed quickly and executed efficiently. Three TAPS workers – Alyeska's Jerry Vekved and Houston Contracting Company's Daymon Proctor and Billy Holmes – sprang into action. Tapping their PS1 familiarity, projects experience and connections from Prudhoe Bay, Fairbanks and Anchorage, they led a fast fix without disrupting operations at the most critical and complicated station on TAPS.
For their vision, hustle, organization and leadership on the large collaborative effort, the trio is being recognized with a 2017 Atigun Award for Health and Safety, which celebrates achievements in health and safety of people and property, including process and operational safety.
Vekved said, in a sentiment echoed by Proctor and Holmes, that "it's great to be recognized and I'd really like to extend that recognition to all of the folks who helped, from Engineering and the OCC in Anchorage to onsite Houston folks and pump station personnel to the Fab Shop in Fairbanks and everyone else."
Locating, planning, designing, acting
Shortly after the leak was detected, Vekved, Alyeska O&M Mechanical Engineer, Holmes, a Project Engineer, and Proctor, a Mechanical General Foreman, dug into old Fluor legacy drawings and pinned down the likely leak location.
Vekved acted as the single point of contact as engineers from Anchorage joined onsite staff to brainstorm a temporary solution. Holmes offered his experience from orchestrating construction and shutdown cutover projects to vet the ideas and weigh in on safety and ease-of-installation factors.
Meanwhile, Proctor collaborated on fix ideas while his team started listing and locating materials – more than 1,000 feet of two-inch high-pressure hose and steel piping, and a variety of pipe spools, valves and fittings. Proctor knew what was already onsite, what was in Fairbanks and what still had to be found, fabricated, tested and X-rayed at PS1 or in Fairbanks.
After less than a week, a two-part plan was in place and the required equipment, components and material were pressure-tested and staged.
Part one: Create two parallel temporary gas lines of high-pressure hose, more than 500-feet apiece, to bypass the damaged line and then cutover from the old damaged gas line, all while keeping the area’s facilities and components warm and safe.
And do it all in one day.
"If you turn the gas off here, you'd better be quick to turn it over to something else," Vekved said.
As the OCC and TAPS producers tightly controlled the tanks' oil levels, a backup electrical feed started powering the station and Tioga space heaters warmed buildings. The gas was turned off and the fix began.
Proctor's team had already connected some of the hose and piping. Teams working upstream and downstream from the leak cut into the old pipe, purged it of remaining gas and plugged it. Then, hoses were connected to both ends, bypassing the leak.
In an extremely expedient half-shift, the station's gas was safely flowing again.
"We turned it on and spent a few hours walking the line – there were no leaks, the new piping was good," Proctor said. "For us, it was kind of like day-to-day operations. There's a pretty special working relationship between everyone at Pump 1. That's why everyone jumps in on something like this."
Holmes added, "It was a very simple cutover, really, just in a compressed format. Business as usual up here."
From temporary fix to permanent solution
In the weeks that followed, part two of the plan was executed: the hose runs were replaced with a temporary run of steel piping; pipe spools fabricated in Fairbanks and trucked to PS1 were installed, with the ends field-fitted to the temporary hose manifolds. Final bolt-up of the pipe ends took place during another short-duration cutover, and hoses were removed after restart.
The piping system held strong and is still in use today. Coincidentally, before the leak, a project was already scheduled for summer 2017 to replace and bypass the old underground fuel gas piping with new, easier-to-access above-ground piping. That project now takes on added importance as it will replace the temporary fix.
"The timing of the event itself was fortunate because there were folks around here who already had a lot of familiarity of the old piping," Vekved said. "We stole heavily from that job and its progress to date to work our fix."
Vekved then added, with a laugh, "I guess that old piping just didn’t see eye to eye with our schedule."
Innovation, Winter Operating Temperature Team
You can gather a lot of data, procedures, information and institutional knowledge from 40 years of pipeline operations. You can also collect even more way-we’ve-always-done-its, way-we-should-be-doing-its, bright ideas, not-so-bright ideas and varied opinions, informed or otherwise.
Last year, a diverse and talented group of TAPS experts was told to forget everything it knew about operations – albeit briefly. Then the group huddled to examine a question older than the pipeline: What is the minimum safe winter flow temperature on TAPS?
For the past 10-plus years, that answer was 40 degrees. This group was charged to re-examine that conclusion and then either confirm 40 degrees was the right answer or present and prove a new optimal temperature. Over four months, they dug into data, scoured science, delved into Alaska’s harshest temperatures and working conditions, and even fought their own operational beliefs and departmental principles. The team landed on an answer that addressed safety and risk, protected resources (personnel, financial and equipment), changed how Alyeska views winter flow temperatures and cold-weather operations, and ultimately reimagined the way Alyeska tackles big-picture problems and questions.
For their vision, determination and collaboration, a group of 11 current and former Alyeska employees are recognized with the 2017 Atigun Award for Innovation. The recipients are Rob Annett, Jim Hoppenworth, Andrea Metcalf, Dave Roberts, Klint VanWingerden, Lindsey Vorachek, Joe Howell, Mike Malvick, Tom Marchesani, Gregg Knutsen and Cliff Dolchok.
"This team overcame perceptions, the norms, if you will, and opinions from years of conservatism that we had built up as a company," VanWingerden said.
"We tore it all down, reconstructed it and stacked hands at the end because we were all in it together," added Annett, Appraise Engineering Manager. "While it was really hard work, the easy thing to do would have been to leave everything the same and risk not knowing how safe or unsafe we really are."
The answer: 37 degrees. The team with representatives from Operations, Oil Movements, Engineering, Risk and Flow Assurance processed 40 years of TAPS throughput and operations interruptions data; looked at historic weather lows and conditions along the TAPS route; and then tested the information with intense modeling and funneled it through rigorous risk analysis.
"We had some of the same worries and some very different worries – there was definitely some technical tension – but we were also well-informed and everyone was given time to digest it all and provide their perspective," Annett said. "All of that modeling of scenarios drove us to a new number. And it was better than staying at a very conservative, one-dimensional number."
They found that 40 degrees sat in a range that Annett calls "no man's land." Basically, this means that there was very little risk difference from operating at 40 degrees and operating anywhere between 32 and 48 degrees.
"We trust in the company's risk matrix and being able to look at details and data objectively," VanWingerden said. "And we saw that we weren't getting the value that we thought we were at the 40 degree target. Essentially, we were spending money without getting a corresponding benefit targeting this temperature."
Of course, 37 degrees is also in no man's land. But, Annett said, "TAPS is a beast: you can't turn a dial like a thermostat in your home and have TAPS temperatures suddenly increase."
So the team made a risk-informed decision; 37 degrees provided a buffer of five degrees above the risk tipping point (32 degrees) and allowed adequate time to add heat to TAPS, if needed.
In December, Alyeska's OCC officially changed its cold weather operations procedure. Over the rest of the winter, there were times that the flow temperature dipped below 40 but stayed above 37. In the past, Alyeska would have activated various heat sources along TAPS to keep the temperature at 40. But in this winter's occasions, operations continued unchanged.
What difference does those three degrees make?
"By lowering the target operating temperature, we were saving dollars that can be applied to more effective mitigations that directly impact our operating risk," VanWingerden said.
Annett added, "And it saves money in fuel and operating costs, as well as wear and tear on equipment, while lowering risk to the people attending to the equipment because it's not running."
The work to determine this three-degree difference also shifted Alyeska 180-degrees on how it will analyze and answer big questions moving into the next 40 years of TAPS operations.
"The effort highlights a culture change that is happening within the company,” explained VanWingerden. "I have seen a shift that we're becoming more flexible and nimble with change and adopting that change."
Annett added: "This was super-rewarding. We were able to go to leadership and Owners with data and confidence about a decision that provided a financial efficiency and broadened the understanding of TAPS. This is how you land at risk-informed, data-informed decisions. I really got a kick out of the collaboration."
Pipeline partners: GLM Energy Services
Few employees understand the line-wide scope of TAPS' massive infrastructure – and all of the large and small parts in between – as well as Jerry DeHaas, Senior Discipline Engineer Advisor.
And when DeHaas needs help with a tiny piece of the puzzle or support for a full-on project, he often looks to a trusted service provider far from the TAPS route: GLM Energy Services in Kenai.
"They provide the complete gamut of rotating equipment services related to our repair work," DeHaas said. "And they're really good at what they do."
For their high-quality work and close-knit partnership with Alyeska and many TAPS contractors, GLM Energy Services was recently named the 2017 Atigun Award Contractor-Partner of the Year. This was the first year the award was given.
For more than 30 years, GLM has offered service and repair support to industrial companies, and specifically oil and gas companies. Their clients stretch across Alaska, the Continental U.S. and around the world. Today, GLM employs 40 staff who mostly operate out of two world-class facilities covering 35,000 square feet.
They sell complete products and parts and perform disassembles, inspections, rebuilds, overhauls, reverse engineering and special machining and special repairs, among many other services.
"Whatever we need, whenever we need it, they just continue to come through for us," explained Pam Chenier, Alyeska's Purchasing Supervisor.
"It's a big honor for GLM to receive the first-ever Atigun Award to recognize a contractor partnership," said Tony Brough, GLM's Director of Business Development.
"It just reinforces our commitment to our customers and the timely delivery of high quality services at reasonable prices," Brough added. "And it shows the importance of our relationship with Alyeska."
GLM is a serious statewide success story while something of an Alaska anomaly. Its staff provides a combination of services, machinery, parts, craftsmanship and urgent response that no single Alaska-based company does.
From Pump Station 1 to Valdez, when a repair or replacement is required on TAPS, it often needs to happen urgently, if not ASAP. Alyeska staff says that’s where GLM shines.
Without GLM, some of the unique and major machinery like gas turbines, safety and control valves, engines and other accessories would have to be sent overseas for repair or replacement. And then there are the seemingly countless, assorted and heavily-used generators, motors, pumps and compressors used on TAPS that require regular maintenance and occasional repairs.
"Whether it's a pump or gearbox from the '70s, a diesel generator from the '80s or state-of-the-art power generating equipment, they have the technical expertise, drive and facility to repair the item and help us keep the oil flowing," Chenier said.
Brough added, "The key to GLM’s success is offering in-state support. Alaska's oil and gas customers were isolated in terms of support. GLM saw that opportunity and we’ve remained highly focused on our Alaska-based companies. … With Alyeska, we even team up to co-develop replacement parts that help reduce repair risk and net cost. This really is a unique partnership.”