Alyeska one of World’s Most Ethical Companies for sixth year
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company is one of the World's Most Ethical (WME) Companies® for the sixth year in a row. The Ethisphere® Institute announced its selection on Monday, March 13, and honored recipients at the 2017 WME Honoree dinner on Tuesday, March 14, in New York.
"This year marks 40 years of operations on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. As we celebrate our history, we appreciate how far we've come," said Tom Barrett, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company President. "Earning this honor for the sixth consecutive year is a tribute to the people who operate TAPS and provide a foundation of operational and professional integrity and ethics that is part of our everyday culture. This ethical base makes us proud and resilient in the face of challenges and fortifies us for the future."
For 11 years, Ethisphere has honored companies that recognize their role in society to influence and drive positive change, consider the impact of their actions on their employees, investors, customers and other key stakeholders and use their values and culture as an underpinning to the decisions they make every day. Companies are evaluated in five key categories: ethics and compliance program, corporate citizenship and responsibility, culture of ethics, governance, and leadership, innovation and reputation.
"Over the last eleven years we have seen the shift in societal expectations, constant redefinition of laws and regulations and the geo-political climate. We have also seen how companies honored as the World's Most Ethical respond to these challenges. They invest in their local communities around the world, embrace strategies of diversity and inclusion, and focus on long term-ism as a sustainable business advantage," explained Timothy Erblich, Ethisphere's Chief Executive Officer. "Congratulations to everyone at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company for being recognized as a World's Most Ethical Company."
The Ethisphere® Institute is the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices that fuel corporate character, marketplace trust and business success. Ethisphere honors superior achievement through its World’s Most Ethical Companies recognition program. The full list of the 2017 World's Most Ethical Companies can be found at http://worldsmostethicalcompanies.ethisphere.com/honorees/.
Heat pipes super-chill the ground, winter only
Forward looking infrared (FLIR) technology captures infrared radiation emitted from a heat source. A forward FLIR camera captured this image north of Fairbanks where the ambient temperature is -50 F today.
"We use the FLIR T640bx camera to monitor the radiator section of the heat pipes," said Larry Mosley, Aboveground Engineer. "This particular infrared camera is rated to operate at extremely cold temperatures and the thermal sensor can detect less than one degree of temperature change."
There are 78,000 vertical support members (VSM) along TAPS – most of them south of Atigun Pass have heat pipes to help maintain the permafrost around the VSMs. The heat pipes act to reduce soil temperature when the temperature of the air drops below that of the ground.
The heat pipe is a natural convection, two-phase heat transfer loop, which transfers heat by vaporization and condensation within the closed system. It consists of a sealed tube, charged with a working fluid, which functions as a two-phase (gas-liquid) system at operating temperatures.
Heat from the soil enters the lower end of the tube, causing the fluid to boil. The vapor travels to the upper, radiator end of the tube in the air, where it condenses on the cooler surface, releasing energy. The condensate then returns to the lower end of the tube as a film along the tube wall.
Alyeska's Civil Integrity Team monitors air and ground temperatures at 52 locations between Pipeline Milepost 85 and 725. As reported by the Alaska National Weather Service, the past three winters have been relatively mild.
"These extreme temperatures present significant challenges to maintaining our homes and vehicles," said Phil Hoffman, Senior Engineer Advisor. "But on TAPS we are ecstatic when these cold temperatures set in, giving the heat pipes a chance to chill the soil."
An exhibition of TAPS teamwork, knowledge helps museum
A rather unusual challenge from one of Alyeska's community partners surfaced last yaer, and addressing it successfully involved the professionalism and teamwork of several TAPS employees.
The Anchorage Museum contacted Alyeska about the remodeling of its second-floor Alaska Gallery. All its contents had to go – from the tiniest grass baskets to pioneer panoramas to Gold Rush-era tools. It also meant the removal of a beloved and behemoth pipeline exhibit: a 21-foot-long piece of 48-inch-diameter pipe in place since 1998.
The display in its totality weighed at least 11,500 pounds – though no one at the museum knew that before the removal began. In fact, the pipe exhibit was in place for so long that no one at the museum recalled how it got there or who installed it. They weren't even sure how the pipe was held in place, with its base concealed by flooring.
Monica Shah, the museum's Director of Collections and Chief Conservator, reached out to Alyeska. She hoped TAPS engineers could advise on potential dismantling strategies. If the museum crew could get the pipeline display apart, they could then move the parts to large doors 19 feet away and remove it via crane.
"What was really difficult about it was there was no record of anybody putting it in there," said Valisa Hansen, the Alyeska Project Coordinator who led the effort to support the museum.
Hansen and Senior Engineering Director Betsy Haines visited the exhibit in late July. Up close, they found little room for maneuvering: the front and back ends of the pipe hovered a snug 47 inches and 22 inches from the ceiling, respectively.
"I didn't really see how they were going to fit a forklift in there with limited room," Hansen said.
Several colleagues suggested slicing the pipe into smaller pieces onsite, but that wasn't a good option for the museum crew due to permitting requirements and the tools and labor they had on hand. Hansen busted out her measuring tape and got to work.
"Overall, this project was more demolition, more of the construction side of things," Hansen said. "The part I helped with, that's engineering – looking up weight, the sizes, the specs."
Critical to this work: Phil Hoffman, Aboveground Program Support Engineer. Fresh off helping with a recently unveiled pipeline exhibit at a new Juneau museum, he walked Hansen through the process of estimating weight on specific pipeline components.
Meanwhile, a note went out to all TAPS employees asking if anyone recalled logistics of the original exhibit. How was it installed? Did anyone still employed here work on it?
Leave it to the often-long memories of TAPS staff to come through.
Tapping TAPS knowledge, teamwork
Dave Norton, now owner of Hawk Consultants, had saved articles from the Anchorage Times and Anchorage Daily News. The original exhibit was made for the Smithsonian, he said. He remembered coordinating the installation and attending the reception in D.C. After its Smithsonian run, it was donated to the Anchorage Museum.
Also involved: Greg Campbell, a baseline mechanical superintendent at the time. He's now the program director for Houston Contracting Co. and has vivid memories of constructing the original exhibit for the United States’ most famous museum.
"It was very cool, back when Bob Malone was president," Campbell said. "We built it here in Fairbanks at the Fab Shop and got to travel with it back to D.C. Joel Lindsay and I went back and brought the unit into the Smithsonian and got to go through the basement of the museum and put it together. And we went to the christening ceremony."
Campbell spoke with the Anchorage Museum team and explained the original display's construction. While the exhibit here was modified, the information still proved helpful.
"They were concerned about how it was connected to the base, and I just talked them through how the pipe is connected to the shoes and everything is kind of bolted together," Campbell said. "It was actually welded to the wall, too. They put quite a bit of steel underneath it which we didn’t have when we built the original one."
Alyeska Operations SME Gregg Knutsen also helped out, visiting the exhibit to examine the pig and advising that the urethane object weighed about 2,000 pounds.
Throughout the process, museum staff traded emails with Hansen, covering topics such as the weight of various parts, floor strength and what tools and forklifts the museum would have.
When the day for the pipe removal came, the museum crews had removed pretty much everything around it – the flooring, the placards, the pig, the fans atop the VSMs, and more.
Using the input from Alyeska, and a collection of tools and machinery they had on hand and rented, the museum crew was able to safely get the pipe to the floor. It was then carefully moved to the doors and the waiting crane.
"By reaching out to the right people, and because of everyone's willingness to help make it all work out, we got it done," Hansen said. "That's Alyeska culture – teamwork. There is a lot of expertise within our company and it showed. I'm glad we were able to support the museum."
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.