New Valdez surveying technology elevates accuracy, efficiency
Surveying is part of the daily routine at the always busy and diverse Valdez Marine Terminal. Permitting, utility locates, topographic surveys, outdoor mapping, excavations, as-builts, construction staking, right of way work, post-survey data downloads and more – Alyeska staff and TAPS contractors always have a range of tasks to complete and the accuracy and efficiency of those assignments are critical to maintaining the workflow.
Terminal surveyors recently received a significant boost of support for their work – and a significant signal boost, too. In November, a new Trimble NetR9 Global Navigation Satellite System was mounted on a pole atop the Valdez Terminal Office Building.
All involved with the upgrade – Valdez surveyors, Alyeska Supply Chain and System Integrity staff, and equipment and surveying contractor Merrick & Company – agree that the new equipment is a game-changer and a seismic upgrade over the area's previous analog GPS setup. It provides pinpoint accuracy over a larger working area. It spans the Terminal, the city of Valdez, Port Valdez, and as far north as Keystone Canyon on the Richardson Highway. The NetR9's digital receiver has 440 digital channels that allow around-the-clock communication with dozens of satellites which send signals back to Terminal surveyors to assist in their work.
"It's been a big eye-opener," said Ben Kramer, a Chief of Parties surveyor for Merrick who has worked at the VMT for four years. "In GPS terms, a handheld Garmin device that anyone can use will bring you within 30 feet. This equipment brings us within the head of a dime."
The equipment also allows for independence, flexibility and efficiency. Kramer said there is less equipment and shorter setup time involved with daily operations. One field surveyor can now perform certain jobs that once required crews of two or three and multiple stations.
"We want to give our crews the tools to be successful, and this equipment is smarter, faster, better and more cost-effective," said Jacques Cloutier, Alyeska System Integrity Program Support Engineer. "And it ensures our staff and contractors can do their best work efficiently."
Led by Contract Maintenance Coordinator Allan Laudert, Alyeska's VMT Maintenance team assisted Merrick staff with the installation, making sure the stout setup would withstand Valdez's occasionally dramatic weather conditions.
The equipment is a major technological advancement over the area's previous analog GPS equipment. It had to be installed across Port Valdez on Alyeska's SERVS office building because mountains and a microwave tower in the Terminal area interfered with the equipment's signals.
That equipment also had limited satellite connections and short windows in the workday in which surveyors could use it. Its accuracy wasn't always reliable and neither was its functionality. It suffered occasional shutdowns, forcing Terminal surveyors to drive around the port to reboot the machine.
"We used to spend an hour a day, every day, setting up base stations to do our work," said Kramer. "Now that's an hour of work and productivity. And the post-processing is huge. It used to take two or three hours to drive to SERVS and download all the data from our work. The new receiver downloads that data while we're in the Terminal doing other work."
Alyeska again named one of World's Most Ethical Companies
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has been identified as one of the World's Most Ethical (WME) Companies for the fourth year in a row. The Ethisphere® Institute announced its selection today at the 2015 WME Honoree dinner in New York.
"Earning this distinction for four consecutive years reflects very favorably on the character of our personnel," said Tom Barrett, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company President. "Demonstrating ethics and integrity is more than following rules or policies. It has become an integral part of the TAPS DNA and how we work and live 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. Alyeska demonstrated:
• Strong and consistent safety and environmental performance.
• Sustainability initiatives designed to extend the life of the pipeline and protect the environment.
• Established policies and procedures that foster ethical behavior.
• Corporate citizenship programs, including the annual United Way campaign, school partnerships and matching employee philanthropy contributions.
• Strong code of conduct and an excellent open work environment that encourages employees to raise concerns and identify company improvements.
• Direct lines of communication between the workforce and leadership.
"The World's Most Ethical Companies embrace the correlation between ethical business practice and improved company performance," said Ethisphere's Chief Executive Officer, Timothy Erblich. "Earning this recognition involves the collective action of a workforce from the top down. We congratulate everyone at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company for this extraordinary achievement."
The Ethisphere® Institute is a 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. Ethisphere's selection criteria and the complete list of 2015 World's Most Ethical Companies can be found at http://ethisphere.com/worlds-most-ethical/wme-honorees/.
Vessel of Opportunity Program receives notable award
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's Vessel of Opportunity Program recently received a 2015 Alaska Ocean Leadership Award by the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC). Alyeska received the Stewardship & Sustainability Award, which honors an industry leader that demonstrates the highest commitment to sustainability of ocean resources. The award was presented to Alyeska leadership at the Alaska Marine Gala on February 21 in Anchorage.
The Vessel of Opportunity Program started in 1990 to ready citizens and fishing industry professionals around Prince William Sound to provide oil spill response support in the unlikely case of an actual incident. Each year, staff from Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) provides education and training to more than 1,500 crew members of approximately 450 vessels from six Prince William Sound ports (Valdez, Cordova, Whittier, Homer, Kodiak and Seward).
"It is phenomenal to be recognized for sustainability and stewardship by the Alaska SeaLife Center," said Andres Morales, Alyeska's SERVS Director. "Our mission is prevention, and if needed, to be ready to respond. The Vessel of Opportunity Program is truly emblematic of how fishermen and industry share a common interest and work together to protect Prince William Sound. This is a wonderful and deserved recognition of our joint work to be the best stewards of this tremendous resource we have."
The rigorous, multiday training strengthens the crews' skills in spill response, containment and recovery, which allows them to be safe while playing an integral role in Alyeska's response readiness and protecting Prince William Sound. The trainings take place in each of the six ports, spending time in the classroom and on the water. Crew members get hands-on experience in loading equipment, deploying boom, setting up skimmers and rehearsing other recovery tactics. A smaller segment of participants are trained in wildlife management and treatment. SERVS staff is assisted in the training by the U.S. Coast Guard, Prince William Sound Community College, and other entities.
The ASLC noted in its award announcement that, "The local knowledge and commitment of the Prince William Sound fishing communities is evident in this program’s ongoing success – ensuring that the fisheries and environment are protected and sustained for years to come." The award was sponsored by ASLC Awards Committee member Jason Brune.
Learn more about Alyeska's Vessel of Opportunity Program at www.alyeska-pipe.com/TAPS/SERVS/VesselOfOpportunity.
Telemedicine innovations connect TAPS workforce to enhanced care
A TAPS technician wakes up with an irritated eye. He visits the pump station's highly trained medic, who is also the site's security officer. The medic sees nothing abnormal. For many years, the medic would then call Alyeska’s Occupational Health Unit (OHU) team in Anchorage – Dr. Leo Morresey and Occupational Health Manager Tom Brady – for advice. Morresey and Brady would talk to the patient and medic over the phone, and possibly look at the patient's eye on a grainy live video feed or digital photo to try to diagnose the problem.
Questions often remained about the injury's origin and severity, as well as the next step – asking the patient to rest and see if the problem improves or worsens; driving the patient to the nearest urgent care facility, sometimes more than 100 miles away and on occasionally poor road conditions; or declaring an emergency and calling for a medevac to a faraway hospital, an expensive and possibly unnecessary resolution.
Today, these health care treatment unknowns and doubts are all but eliminated along TAPS. In December, Alyeska's OHU and Information Technology teams partnered with contractors Right! Systems and Wipro to install state-of-the-art telemedicine stations at Pump Stations 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and at the Valdez Marine Terminal. Since going live in early January, OHU staff in Anchorage now uses the telemedicine devices to communicate directly with sites, providing vastly enhanced care to patients and support to medics.
The first time Morresey and Brady used the telemedicine tools, they examined the red and irritated eye of an employee at Pump Station 1. Using a high definition (HD) camera attached to the new telemedicine system, and manipulated by the site's medic, Brady said they noticed "a speck of metal shaving on the eye's surface. It wouldn’t have been seen otherwise. We identified it and the medic swabbed it and flushed the eye to remove the irritating speck."
Alyeska's OHU team annually receives around 1,000 medical calls and makes 2,500 medical interactions with remote sites. Issues range from illnesses and rashes to lacerations and other injuries; most injuries involve eyes, hands and backs, and are soft tissue injuries like muscle strains and sprains that come with simple diagnoses. Brady said a small number of cases require more thorough examinations and complex care decisions.
The telemedicine equipment provides clarity. Each site's telemedicine suite includes monitors, powerful HD cameras and specialized tools like otoscopes for ear and nasal area examinations; electric stethoscopes that allow doctors to listen to hearts and lungs; heart tracing machines that show heartbeats; spirometry units that measure lung functions; and even an attachment for the camera so OHU team can ask patients to "say ahhh" for mouth and throat examinations.
The medic operates the equipment while Brady and Morresey use iPads to see and hear the patient and medic, as well as gather readings. The OHU team will soon have the same access at their desktops in their Anchorage office.
"We have always erred on the side of conservatism, but with this technology at our fingertips we can make decisions with more certainty," Brady explained. "When we look at an eye with these cameras, it's a real eye examination. We can see viral infections or foreign substances. We can see the natural hues of a patient's skin so we can visually check the progress of a patient's infection or rash. There is real value here in interfacing like this – it allows us to provide new levels of care to our workers and support to our medics."
Brady added, "And ultimately the patient gains further confidence in their care. They get to see, hear and communicate with a doctor."
Brady said that working closely with Alyeska's Cyber Security Team, the information sent from site to site is secure, HIPAA compliant for patient confidentiality, and has minimal impact on Alyeska's network system.
The OHU team sees its use of telemedicine expanding in the years ahead. They are exploring occupational health and prevention opportunities and plan on piloting tele-physicals at one remote site this year.
"We're essentially providing the same level of care and services they would receive if they came into a doctor's office," Brady said. "You just can't shake the doctor's hand."
Cold oil a hot topic during winter
As oil throughput declines, TAPS faces new and complicated challenges. One of the most complex is maintaining crude oil temperature in the pipeline at around 40 degrees during the winter. This provides a safe operating buffer above 31 degrees, at which point trace amounts of water in the oil can begin to freeze. Heat input along TAPS is critical during cold weather; the hotter the oil, the lesser the chance of ice formation during extreme cold weather events or unplanned pipeline shutdowns. Ice in the pipeline can pose risks to mainline check valves, instruments, mainline pumps and maintenance pigs.
Each winter between October and March, Alyeska's Operations Engineering and the Operations Control Center constantly analyze temperatures along the pipeline and look at weather forecasts to optimize heat input.
"The effort requires a mix of science and intuition to maintain the target temperatures for the pipeline system," explained Mike Malvick, Flow Assurance Advisor with the Flow Assurance Team. "And it's a system that has a lot of thermal mass and a transit time that exceeds two weeks."
TAPS oil temperature is a function of pipeline throughput and the time the oil spends in the pipeline. At its peak in 1988, TAPS throughput was more than 2 million barrels a day. At that rate, oil traveled from Pump Station 1 to Valdez in 4.5 days and was as hot as 120 degrees. Freezing water and wax accumulation weren't concerns.
Oil now leaves Pump Station 1 at approximately 110 degrees and experiences a significant drop in temperature almost immediately upon departing, then continues cooling as it travels to Valdez. Today's throughput is around 530,000 barrels a day, taking 18 days to travel to Valdez. On Monday, January 26, oil departed Pump Station 1 at 106 degrees with an ambient temperature of 17 below zero. By the time the oil traveled 100 miles south to Pump Station 3, the environment had drawn 51 degrees from its natural temperature. Near the Yukon River, temperatures were around 50 below zero. In Fairbanks, temperatures hovered around 40 below. Without heating assistance, the oil would eventually cool below 31 degrees before reaching Valdez.
During current normal winter operations, oil temperature is increased using mainline pumps and station recycle loops to add heat through friction at Pump Stations 3, 4, 7 and 9. At Pump Station 3, approximately 13 degrees of heat is added to the crude by running it through recycle loops at 25,000 barrels per hour. The same process is repeated at Pump Stations 4 and 9. The heat added at Pump Station 7 comes from a different source, one that involves recycling but through the use of a legacy mainline pump – one of the last on the line. On January 26, the ambient temperature at Pump 7 was 21 below zero, with crude arriving at 40 degrees and leaving at 53.
Heating with the existing equipment increases system-wide equipment maintenance costs and is especially expensive south of Atigun Pass. There, the heat is generated by burning turbine fuel trucked to Pump Station 7 and by consuming electricity from Golden Valley Electrical Association at Pump Station 9.
"Without considering literally dozens of data points and responding to weather or throughput changes several days into the future, it is easy to either put more heat into the system than necessary and incur unnecessary fuel and electricity expense," added Malvick, "or to not anticipate a cold snap, watch pipeline temperatures drop below targeted values, and then play catch-up with maximum heat input for several days or weeks."
Malvick and other TAPS staff are developing additional initiatives to warm the oil as it travels the line.
One heating solution is the new Remote Gate Valve 65 (RGV-65) point-source heating skid, located 17 pipeline miles north of Pump Station 7. The portable diesel-fired slipstream heating/reinjection skid was brought online January 7 with the potential to increase oil temperatures by 2 degrees.
"The skid is a relatively efficient system for adding heat and serving as a contingency to mitigate the risk of ice accumulation at Pump Station 7," said John Baldridge, Senior Director, Pipeline Operations.
RGV-65 will be used as weather dictates. Engineers will validate RGV-65's effectiveness and reliability this winter; if successful, Alyeska will consider setting up similar skids along the line.
2014: A year in review
2014 was an incredibly successful year in many ways for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and TAPS.
We moved 187.4 million barrels of oil, including TAPS’s 17 billionth barrel, and we did so safely and with integrity. TAPS staff worked 5.9 million hours in many capacities and extended a streak of more than 19.5 million hours without a serious injury. Alyeska was also honored by being named one of the world's most ethical companies for the third consecutive year. TAPS staff worked equally hard in our communities, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteering hundreds of hours to Alaska nonprofits.
Inspired giving: 2014 philanthropy recap
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and its employees and contractors strengthen and support people, communities and nonprofit organizations across Alaska every year through giving, volunteering and philanthropy.
Here are highlights from 2014:
Grants and sponsorships making a difference
Nearly 200 Alaska organizations received financial gifts from Alyeska in 2014, totaling nearly $400,000. These dollars directly supported programs targeted through Alyeska's philanthropy strategy. Areas of focus include education, health, underserved populations, environment, safety, workforce development, and fostering strong communities and healthy Alaskans.
Alyeska's resources went to nearly 100 organizations in Anchorage, ranging from modest, volunteer-driven nonprofits to larger, staffed entities like the Food Bank of Alaska and Catholic Social Services. More than 50 Fairbanks nonprofits received funds from Alyeska, which sponsored the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, the Calypso Farm and Ecology Center’s School Garden Initiative, and more. The Cordova Family Resource Center and Lego Robotics teams from Valdez schools were among the 33 Prince William Sound-area nonprofits that benefited from Alyeska grants.
Special consideration and attention is given to organizations that have TAPS employees as volunteers or serving on their boards of directors.
"It's great to work for a company that's willing to put its resources behind those employees who give time in their communities," said Katie Pesznecker, Stakeholder Relations Manager, whose board involvement includes Food Bank of Alaska. "It tells us as employees that our commitments matter, and it shows the organizations we serve that Alyeska wants to make its communities stronger."
Around Alaska, TAPS employees routinely show up to support community fundraisers and events and publicly prove their generosity. This consistent compassion is a cornerstone of the company's culture.
Consider the enthusiasm evident this autumn in Anchorage when more than 140 employees turned out in solidarity for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk. It was a show of support for the organization and former employee Jon Ah You. Walkers crushed the fundraising goal by collectively bringing in a staggering $37,000.
"We honored Jon and our loved ones, honored the contributions of the walkers, donators, and Alyeska, honored our heart healthiness, and honored each other," said Cyndy Strickland, Contracting Officer, who organized Alyeska’s involvement. "It's community, it's fun, and it's what we want to pass on to those around us. I take pride in what a wonderful caring company Alyeska is and I'm glad to be part of the positive support Alyeska is visibly giving in our community."
In Fairbanks, Alyeska volunteers are regulars at community events like the popular Tanana Valley State Fair. And in Valdez, employees are a routine sight along Dayville Road during cleanup events and at the Valdez Museum fundraiser.
In addition to providing grants, Alyeska expanded its community reach and supported its staff’s passions by matching employees' charitable donations dollar-for-dollar up to $2,000 per employee.
The 2014 fourth quarter numbers are still outstanding, but from January to September 2014 employee giving resulted in Alyeska contributing an additional $50,000 to 47 organizations, including the University of Alaska Foundation, the Fairbanks Food Bank, and the Pratt Museum in Homer.
United in giving
It's impossible to talk about the generosity of Alyeska's people and not discuss the organization's stunning history of hugely successful United Way campaigns.
Alyeska's campaign chairs and staff use events, contests and creative ideas to engage their fellow staff and inspire them to give in Alyeska workplaces along the pipeline and in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Valdez. This year's campaign was a major success, as Alyeska raised $587,705 for United Way branches across Alaska.
"People really rallied," said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director and United Way campaign co-chair. "We had more than 150 leadership givers who donated $1,000 or more. So many people put a lot of efforts into the fundraising events, spending personal time and money to cook and decorate, and getting mud pies thrown in their faces, and it was all to get people excited about the campaign. It really speaks to the commitment and generosity of our people."
Michele Brown, Director of United Way of Anchorage, said Alyeska employees' generosity is just the beginning of the story of how giving they are.
"alyeska employees are equally compassionate and generous with their time and talents," Brown said. "Anywhere there is a community support activity, you'll find Alyeska employees fully and energetically engaged. From serving on nonprofit boards throughout the state, to helping lead the 90% by 2020 Partnership and support the work increasing kindergarten readiness, to volunteering to aid and comfort Alaskans and building a thriving Alaska, team Alyeska is there. We salute and deeply appreciate you."
Employees at Alyeska have expressed gratitude that the company is willing to put resources behind organizations valued by its people.
"Alyeska's diverse workforce includes a variety of parents who need safe, reliable child care," said Bill Rosetti, Alyeska's Chief Information Officer. "When Alyeska supports Camp Fire Alaska, it enables parents in the Anchorage workforce to be confident in the care of their children, while realizing their full career potential."
Rosetti, a Camp Fire board member, said this impacts him personally.
"When my daughter was young, I was a single, working parent," he said. "After enrolling her in Camp Fire's after-school program at Bowman Elementary she had a place she to learn and enjoy, while I had peace-of-mind. My daughter grew through that experience, gaining confidence, and leadership skills. A few years ago, I became reacquainted with Camp Fire. Now it's my turn – to help an organization that helped me.
"Alyeska embodies the spirit of Alaska – helping neighbors, supporting employees, participating in our community," Rosetti added. "Through support of organizations like Camp Fire, Alyeska demonstrates good stewardship and a commitment to our communities."
Sonia Auld, an Accounting Manager for Alyeska, is involved in the Alaska chapter of the Frontier Trapper's Association, and has turned to Alyeska for contributions to the organization.
"Alyeska's support in employees' involvement with their nonprofit organization – whether in the form of donation or civic leave – definitely contributes to a positive corporate culture," Auld said. “It means a lot as an employee that Alyeska supports many important causes, especially organizations that are personally important to its employees."
Her organization is important to her family, Auld said, because it teaches children a healthy respect for the environment.
"Alyeska's donation in the last three years helped support the organization in educating children and public in general about trapping as a necessary wildlife management tool," Auld said. "I deeply appreciate Alyeska's generosity and engagement within the community by indirectly providing important services through the nonprofit organization it supports to affect meaningful change."
The dance of tugs docking tankers in Port Valdez
On a recent morning, the tug Stalwart pulled away from the SERVS dock, headed out to meet the tanker Alaska Legend as it entered Port Valdez. A dense fog hung over the port and every few minutes, foghorns called out in the distance.
Looking out at the pea soup, Captain David Sweeney remarked that he'd take his time crossing the bay.
"We’re not in a rush," he said, "and it's a good idea to slow down in the fog."
Much has been written about the five world-class and purpose-built escort tugs in Prince William Sound, owned by Crowley and under contract to SERVS. With 10,192 horsepower engines and rapid response capabilities, these vessels are the show horses of SERVS' fleet, and rightfully so. Introduced in 1999 and 2000, the three Prevention and Response Tugs (PRTs) and the two Enhanced Tractor Tugs (ETTs) have revolutionized tanker escorts in the Sound.
But there are other tugs in Valdez, like the Invader-class Stalwart, that support SERVS' mission as well. They are also owned by Crowley and move response barges and personnel as needed. And, like today, they help tankers safely dock at the Valdez Marine Terminal.
Docking a tanker is a routine job for one of these tugs.
"Pretty simple if you know how to do it," said Sweeney, as he pulled up alongside the Legend. "A little challenging for a new captain."
For this docking, the Stalwart is located near the starboard bow of the Legend. The fog has already burned off, and we can see the tug Bulwark at mid-ship and the Alert aft. Crews from the tanker throw messenger lines from above, eventually leading larger working lines – the circumference of a baseball – through the bullring on the bow before it is made up on deck. The Legend is going to berth on its port side, requiring a U-turn up Port Valdez. The tugs are along for the ride as the tanker glides past the terminal, but as the vessel begins to make its right-hand turn, the tugs' engines engage.
"Right now, the engines aren’t really pulling or pushing, they're kind of twisting the tanker into place," explains Sweeney.
Soon enough, the tanker nears the berth. Over the radio, a calm voice offers a slew of directions for each tug.
"Bulwark, touch down." (get ready to push)
"Stalwart, stretch" (get ready to pull)
"Stalwart, back." (pull)
Slowly and noisily, the tanker gets nudged and tugged into place.
Captain Sweeney directs the Stalwart's line boats, the Gus-E and Roger, to tie up the lines to the mooring dolphins at the berth. Soon, a SERVS boom boat will appear to encircle the tanker with boom before it can load crude oil.
A voice comes through on the radio: "Thanks, gentlemen," says the pilot. "That was fun."
TAPS TALKS videos debut with "Legacy In Our Hands"
Alyeska President Thomas Barrett was recently featured in a video that was developed to inspire staff participating in a frontline leadership development class. The video, "TAPS TALKS: Legacy In Our Hands," features Barrett sharing his experiences and thoughts on leadership and the legacy of TAPS. Since debuting with the leadership development class, the video has gone viral in a sense -- it was posted for all TAPS staff to view on Alyeska's intranet and is now being shared externally to Alyeska's partners, stakeholders and the public.
The video is the first in a series of TAPS TALKS that will feature TAPS employees discussing Alyeska's Cultural Attributes and company values, the pipeline's history, personal stories about working on TAPS, and more.
Alyeska volunteers keep special Thanksgiving tradition alive
Every Thanksgiving season, Alyeska employees are thankful for opportunities to give back to those in our communities. For the past 17 years, Anchorage-based Alyeska employees have visited Russian Jack Elementary to supply and serve Thanksgiving meals to students and staff. It's an event that Alyeska employees and the school’s students and staff look forward to every year.
This year, 21 Alyeska staff volunteers served Thanksgiving standards like turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, buns, pumpkin pie and other fixings to more than 500 Russian Jack students and faculty. For some of the school's students, this is the only Thanksgiving meal they will have this year. A few students mentioned that they had never eaten turkey or dressing before.
Many Alyeska volunteers sign up for this event every year; all are excited about the chance to serve and chat with the excited children. The students shared their appreciation by giving huge thank you banners and cards, and even a few thank you cheers, to the volunteers.
"We love all the students and faculty at Russian Jack Elementary," explained Patti Altom, Alyeska's longtime Senior Communications Assistant who helps organize the event. "This has been a great partnership for the students and for our employees."
Alyeska's Anchorage staff has a long partnership with Russian Jack Elementary School, dating back to when our offices were located in East Anchorage near the school. Alyeska's offices have moved a couple times over the years, but the relationship continues today as Alyeska employees visit the school to read to students, and standout students visit Alyeska's offices quarterly to learn about our work and their future career opportunities.