TAPS team tackles ILI tool run on Atigun Pass
With throughput at around 560,000 barrels per day, slack line typically stretches some 2 miles through the pipeline after it crests Atigun Pass at 4,739 feet and snakes downhill toward Pump Station 5. The Integrity Management team has been unable to collect useable data in slack lines on recent runs because of speed excursion. In addition, the slack line areas create potential for damaging the tool.
So the IM team posed this question: what would it take to eliminate slack line at Atigun Pass? Integrity Management, the Operations Control Center and Oil Movements worked together to conduct a Process Hazard Assessment and understand what was needed to make this happen.
Most employees don’t see the inline inspection tool up close, but suffice to say it’s big, weighing in at 10,600 pounds – about the weight of an African elephant or an adult killer whale. Sending the massive ILI tool in an essential free fall over Atigun would miss valuable data, and the tool could end up damaged by the rapid drop and heat resulting from the high speed.
Getting the tool safely over Atigun was also critical because any damage to the tool would impact the ability of the tool to record complete data for the rest of the run to Valdez.
The group managing the slack line issue reasoned that by stockpiling oil, they could create higher throughput conditions on the day the tool scaled Atigun, essentially eliminating slack line. While the concept sounds simple enough, finding the sweet spot and determining the exact flow rate needed to achieve this proved complex.
Certain “pinch points” upstream of Pump Station 5 needed to be protected from overpressure. Inventory issues also had to be tightly managed and monitored. Crude tanks at various pump stations would need to factor into the plan to manage flow and pressure. Inventory space would also be needed at the Terminal after the fact, when the higher-than-average throughput rolled in. Also, Joe Robertson and Tom Webb had to interface with regulators to ensure they understood Alyeska’s plan.
Deborah Hughes, an engineer at the Operations Control Center, ran hydraulic modeling to predict what pipeline flow pressures would be. Then Alyeska conducted two real-life tests prior to the ILI run, manipulating throughput on the line. Ultimately, the solution was to store up oil at Pump Stations 1 and 4, and also use Tank 150 at Pump Station 5 to syphon off some oil and, in turn, lower the pressure on the pinch points.
On March 28, the ILI tool came over Atigun. Everything worked as planned. Ben Wasson and Jeremy Gustafson, with the help of the ROW team and Houston Contracting, coordinated the intricate effort needed to track the ILI tool over the pass, said Bhaskar Neogi, Pipeline Integrity Management Manager.
What is slack line?
- Slack line occurs when the local pressure in the pipe decreases below the vapor pressure of the crude oil.
- This results in a two-phase flow – vapor in the top layer, and liquid crude oil in the bottom layer.
- How long a section of slack line is depends on four factors: elevation, pipeline throughput, downstream (pump station inlet) pressure and vapor pressure, which is a function of crude temperature.
Fast facts about Atigun Pass:
- Elevation: 4,739 feet
- The pass is where the Dalton Highway (also called the Haul Road) crosses the Continental Divide (mile marker 244)
- Atigun is the only Brooks Range pass that is crossed by a road
- Atigun has a reputation among bush pilots for being hard to cross; most go over Anaktuvuk Pass instead
- The pass is featured on the show “Ice Road Truckers”
Alyeska uses technology to tend to TAPS in winter
On a recent bluebird day in Valdez, Lucy Miller and Joel Hodgson grabbed their arctic gear, hopped into a Bombardier tracker rig and hit the road – a very snowy road. They rumbled up and down big hills, checking in at remote gate valve shacks along the way. Animal tracks dotted the trail, and a family of ptarmigan scuttled in front of the rig in search of a Sunday snack.
It’s a quiet mission, but an important one. Lucy and Joel are instrumentation technicians with the Valdez maintenance department and are part of a team that routinely drives the TAPS Right-Of-Way. These reconnaissance expeditions give technicians a chance to survey the pipeline on the ground. More importantly, the tank-like rig they use packs the snowy trail so that the pipeline and remote gate valves are accessible in case of an emergency.
"If it's really snowy, then it's fun," said Lucy. "You have to fight your way up every hill. When the trail's already in, it's mostly like going for a Sunday drive."
There are three tracker rigs on the Valdez Marine Terminal, and they are heavy-duty vehicles. Each weighs around four tons, but amazingly the track footprint is only 1.5 psi. They have a top speed of 16 miles per hour, and two hydrostatic tracks that can run in opposite directions – these rigs can actually turn on a dime. Two of the three are large and can negotiate the right of way with ease. The other is a little smaller, and is used for tank farm rounds when the snow is high on Terminal.
Sometimes Lucy and Joel – or their counterparts – take the tracker out to participate in oil spill reconnaissance drills, when they’re expected to drive along the right of way and find a black tarp representing a spill. Most of the time though, the reconnaissance missions are preparedness missions; the trail needs to be “in” so technicians like Lucy and Joel can get there quickly if they need to make repairs.
Along other parts of the pipeline, crews use tucker rigs for winter access of the right of way. While tuckers are more maneuverable, the Bombardiers have a small plow in front. This allows the rig to plow itself a snow bridge across small streams that are more common close to the Valdez Marine Terminal.
Alyeska lends a hand in quest to find collared bear
Alyeska Pipeline recently accepted an invitation from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to track down a possible grizzly bear den near pipeline milepost 7. It wasn’t a typical request, but Alyeska environment employees saw it as an opportunity to sustain regulatory relationships and to help resolve a lingering safety concern. On March 11, with the state bear biologists driving snow machines, the Alyeska employees from ROW/EPC and the Environment Team helped out by delivering two Karelian bear dogs via a tucker down the pipeline right-of-way to the launch-off point.
State officials first noted the possible bear den in November 2012 during an aerial survey, looking for wildlife that might be affected by ongoing or potential industry activities. The survey identified a bear den approximately 975 ft from the pipeline ROW at pipeline milepost 6.9 – detectable thanks to technology that shows differences in heat outputs. Meanwhile, officials were monitoring Sonny. Sonny was a spry 4-year-old oilfield bear when biologists first collared her in 1992. Now 25 years old, her radio collar signal went from an active to a slow pulse, indicating she hadn’t moved – that she might have died, was hibernating, or had shed her collar. Sonny was likely denning with her cub. State officials try to confirm FLIR and radio collar survey data. It’s accurate less than 50 percent of the time on grizzly bear dens because of the dirt cave that surrounds a bear. So scientists use Karelian bear dogs to sniff out the dens. Dick Shideler, a bear and large animal biologist with Fish and Game, brought his personal dog, Kavik, a 12-year-old who has successfully identified 37 of 38 dens during work for oil companies on the North Slope. Shideler has logged more than 35 years of experience with grizzly bears in Alaska. Trent Roussin, a contracted employee to the state, brought his 4-year old dog, Baloo, on her first-ever grizzly den survey. Baloo previously worked in Canada and Alaska to search for polar bear dens.
Alyeska employees saw the den-scouting mission as an opportunity to collaborate with Fish & Game, an agency that has showed ongoing support for Alyeska’s efforts to conserve and educate employees about wildlife management. From a safety perspective, Pump Station 1 and the right of way users in the area shared a strong interest in confirming the presence of an active bear den in a routinely trafficked area of the pipeline. The den, if found, would be the closest one ever positively identified adjacent to the right of way.
Kavik and Baloo, outfitted with GPS trackers, made a positive identification at the top of a pingo near pipeline milepost 6.84, 300 yards northwest from the radio-signal plotted location. By using years of experience, ingenuity, and the radio collar tracking device, the biologists were able to determine where to search after coming up somewhat lacking with only the FLIR and radio signal information. As the pings on the tracking device became stronger, they were able to bring the dogs to a downwind location near the pingo and within minutes, the dogs “alerted” with frantic pouncing, digging, and sniffing. After about 10 minutes, the dogs were called off the den – the point being to locate the den, not to disturb the bear. Officials placed a marker in the ground, collected local data, and returned to the pump station. After six hours -1° Fahrenheit ambient temperatures, with a -20° Fahrenheit wind chill, a cup of hot cocoa was on everyone’s minds. The dogs slept soundly in the tucker as Ric Adams, PS01 Baseline Laborer, and Cathy Girard, Environmental Coordinator, took the 1.5 hour roller coaster ride over 7 miles of snow drifts back to Pump Station 1.
Alyeska named one of World’s Most Ethical Companies, second year in a row
The Ethisphere Institute has recognized Alyeska Pipeline Service Company with a 2013 World’s Most Ethical (WME) Company award. The institute announced its selection today at the 2013 WME Honoree dinner in New York.
“We have earned this award two years in a row. This shows Alyeska employees and contractors live the values embedded in our policies and in our code of conduct every day,” said Tom Barrett, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company President. “Ethics begins with our people. Without their ongoing commitment to integrity, the best policies and procedures in the world wouldn’t hold up.”
Alyeska received the award for demonstrating the following:
- Strong and consistent safety and environmental record.
- Excellent code of conduct and an open work environment that encourages employees to raise concerns and identify company improvements.
- Sustainability initiatives designed to extend the life of the pipeline and protect the environment.
- Established policies and procedures that foster ethical behavior.
- Direct lines of communication between the workforce and leadership.
- Corporate citizenship programs, including the annual United Way campaign, school partnerships and matching employee philanthropy contributions.
Alex Brigham, Executive Director of Ethisphere, said the institute is “seeing more companies be proactive and create new initiatives that expand ethics programs and cultures across entire industries… We are excited to see the 2013 World's Most Ethical Companies take these leadership positions, and embrace ethical behavior.”
The Ethisphere Institute is an international organization dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability. Read about Ethisphere’s selection criteria and view the complete list of 2013 World’s Most Ethical Companies at http://ethisphere.com/wme.
Alyeska's best safety year on record
Alyeska employees and contractors ended 2012 with the best safety and environmental performance on record, marking across-the-board improvements in areas such as process safety, occupational safety performance and vehicle safety.
"Employees should all take pride in this," said Rod Hanson, Director of the Health, Safety & Environment Team. "Through their collective efforts, hard work, and attention to detail, they have demonstrated the results that are possible."
- Continued improvement in process safety management systems and a reduction in process safety events.
- TAPS' best ever combined (Alyeska & contractor) occupational safety performance.
- Two years in a row without an Alyeska employee OSHA recordable or DAFWC injury.
- A significant improvement in vehicle safety performance.
- A very solid environmental performance record.
"These sorts of HSE performance improvements are not by accident," Hanson said. "These results must be earned.”
Alyeska was a proud sponsor of the Fairbanks Winter Solstice Festival
Alyeska was a proud sponsor of the December 21 Downtown Fairbanks Winter Solstice Festival which culminated in a popular fireworks display over the Chena River. As part of the publicity encouraging people to enjoy visiting downtown—despite the cold and darkness—Alyeska’s logo and the Downtown Association’s website address were projected onto the old Polaris Hotel building. Given the long hours of darkness in December, this innovative advertising strategy proved to be a visible and fun way to advertise the event and Alyeska’s sponsorship.
Alyeska President celebrates New Years at Pump Station 9
On New Year’s Day 2013, Alyeska president Tom Barrett visited Pump Station 9 to wish everyone there a Happy New Year. To celebrate Tom’s second anniversary on TAPS, Utility Rover Technician Diandra Amsden baked a cake in a number “2” shape that looked like the pipeline. When sliced open to reveal chocolate cake inside, someone said, “Oh look, it’s full of crude!
The cake is displayed in the photo by Tom and PS09 O&M Supervisor Hillary Schaefer. Tom was accompanied by Sr. V.P. for Operations Mike Joynor and Sr. Director for Pipeline Operations John Baldridge.
TAPS team raise $6,500 for Special Olympics
A crew of brave TAPS employees and contractors leapt into the frigid waters of Goose Lake on Dec. 15 to raise $6,500 for Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics Polar Plunge draws of hundreds of shivering participants and parka-clad onlookers to the lake shore every winter. The spirited event isn’t for the weak: temperatures dropped below freezing and organizers have to arrange for a hole to be carved through the lake’s icy surface. With attention to safety, rescue divers bobbed in the water, ready to help out if needed.
Alyeska Project Manager Steve Schudel’s wife Karen was the inspiration to pull together “Team Alyeska." Karen and Steve led the team to support their son who participates in Special Olympics.
Team Alyeska: Mike Anderson, Evan Workman, Emily Garrett, Taryn Byrd, Karen Schudel,
Steve Schudel and Billie Allen
Visit Alyeska's Facebook page to see photos of the event.
Five cultural attributes
From Alyeska President Tom Barrett
At Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, our recent work has included focus on organizational culture, or simply put, “how we do business.” And “how we do business” is critical to “how well we do business.” For more than 35 years, our commitment to safe and reliable operations has yielded safe delivery of nearly 17 billion barrels of crude oil. With throughput declining, technical challenges mounting, and our workforce changing, we need to leverage and strengthen our cultural values to continue delivering outstanding results.
To identify five behaviors on TAPS that are essential for future success, a diverse team of Alyeska employees worked together over six months. The team highlighted five attributes that are at the core of exceptional performance.
First, take a system view; make informed decisions, consider the total pipeline system. Second, make sound decisions; involve the right people and data and follow the right processes to achieve sound and timely decisions. Third, learn, improve and innovate; learn from experiences, innovate to overcome challenges and seek to constantly improve. Fourth, “speak up, step up;” share concerns, opportunities and ideas, and take action to resolve issues. Fifth, act with discipline; we do serious work and we take work seriously, shortcuts or a casual attitude will not achieve excellence.
Safely moving enormous volumes of crude oil every day is what we do. Our livelihoods, TAPS sustainability, Alaska’s economic health, and national energy security depend on “how we do business.”
Alyeska’s learning & development team creates new training program
“Learn, improve, innovate” is one of Alyeska Pipeline’s five cultural attributes. In this spirit, Alyeska’s learning and development team recently created Alyeska University (AU), a developmental training program launched through Alaska Pacific University that is tailored to meet unique needs of employees while delivering graduate-level business and leadership courses.
“I signed up for Alyeska University because it is a great opportunity for development,” said Jennifer Bleicher, Senior Operations Coordinator in Valdez. “I’ve wanted to pursue a graduate degree, and this is a step toward that. Also, the program was being offered by my employer and supported by management. In my role, I don’t often travel out of Valdez for work, so this was also a chance to work with coworkers from across the company and learn about what they do.”
Twenty Alyeska employees enrolled in the inaugural session. These first-time AU participants are employees who hold management and supervisory positions and individual contributors aspiring to strengthen leadership skills. AU modules build on one another and center on management scenarios. Alyeska University consists of six modules provided by APU and four modules provided in-house with Alyeska training personnel. Course objectives include strengthening communications, planning, sound decision making and financial management skills.
“‘Learn, Improve, Innovate’ provides a goal to aim for, both at a company level and at an individual employee level,” said Tom Betz, Alyeska’s Learning and Development Manager. “Alyeska University is designed to maximize personal potential and create a learning environment essential for future success.”
Alyeska’s Cultural Attributes provide a path and framework for employees to constantly assess personal performance, team-level performance and the overall performance of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
As North Slope crude oil production declines, less and less throughput in the pipeline compounds and increases the complexity of operating TAPS. Programs such as Alyeska University provide opportunities to learn how to apply the Cultural Attributes – especially “Learn, Improve, Innovate” – and position employees to meet the challenges of declining throughput.