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.
Commendable cleanup efforts in Valdez
This year, TAPS employees working on projects at the Valdez Marine Terminal went above and beyond in their efforts to protect the environment. The 2014 project work generated and removed a record amount of waste and recyclable metals -- nearly 2.8 million pounds!
The cleaning work included:
* Five crude tanks
* One biological treatment tank
* 4,036 feet of ballast water piping
* 4,072 feet of vapor piping
* 35 truck loads of reyclable metals
In addition, one recovered crude tank was demolished and a significant amount of spent abrasive was bagged and sent for disposal. All activities took place without a significant spill or release to the environment.
"Environmental performance was a huge task for the VMT Projects organization in 2014," explained Kent Peterson, area project manager for the Valdez Marine Terminal. "I am very proud of the entire VMT Projects organization, APSC Environmental Coordinators, and TAPS Contractors who supported this work. They did an outstanding job getting the material containerized, labeled, tested and sent out to its final disposal site."
This work embodies TAPS employees acting with discipline to ensure waste and other materials are handled safely to protect people and the environment.
TAPS employees fuel United Way giving
This year, the Alyeska United Way campaign theme is Drive Change. Driving change means investing in community goals that lead to a better life for all.
Alyeska employees and contractors set a campaign goal of $610,000 and are well on their way. They revved up their engines, gave donations, volunteered services and advocated to make a difference in our Alaska communities.
"Companies like Alyeska and the people we depend on everyday embody the generous support and volunteer efforts needed to drive lasting change," said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director, co-chair of this year's Alyeska companywide campaign. "We engage our TAPS workforce by sponsoring fun events intended to raise support for a shared goal. We can all play a role in creating a more united community. So let's drive change together!"
The Alyeska United Way campaign supports driving change through Giving United Support. G.U.S. the Giving Pig was launched from Pump Station 1 and is traveling the pipeline to Valdez encouraging United Way giving along the way.
The campaign was set to wrap up on October 31.
TAPS employees complete 2014 shutdown work
The Yukon Responder is Alyeska’s newest oil spill response vessel and it is a beast with a 34-foot hull, 12-foot beam, twin Yamaha 250hp outboard motors, 300-gallon fuel tank, seating for 12, and a weight capacity of 7,000 lbs. This vessel is different from other TAPS response vessels in that it is a twin screw catamaran, specifically designed for river response but fully capable of operating in Prince William Sound.
“Yukon River is an iconic Alaska river, and it requires an icon response vessel,” said Earl Rose, Oil Spill Coordinator for Alyeska, during the christening ceremony on the Yukon River. Present for the christening was Tom Barrett, President of Alyeska, who lauded Alyeska’s Vessel Operating Committee (VOC) for successfully designing the Yukon Responder and integrating it with the TAPS response fleet.
The christening occurred during an exercise where operators completed 8 engine hours of hands-on training with the Yukon Responder, consisting of deep and shallow water maneuvers, anchoring, engine failure, refueling, towing, man overboard and rescue, operating with a loaded deck and beach landings.
“The advanced training is required of operators because it significantly increases safety and mitigates risk on the water,” Rose said. “Responders acquire a better understanding of river hydrology which helps with oil spill tactics and it reinforces and enhances field leadership.”
Yukon Responder has the capacity to carry the equivalent of a 2015 Yukon Denali SUV. But one of its most remarkable custom-built features is the capability to refuel other vessels. The 300-gallon fuel tank is not only used to power its 500hp propulsion but also to provide refueling of other vessels, which is unprecedented functionality for TAPS oil spill response.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) joined the christening and the exercise where the Yukon Responder successfully refueled a separate response vessel. ADEC’s Elizabeth Stergiou was impressed and said, “The Yukon Responder’s underway refueling system is incredible.” Stergiou rode along for the refueling and participated in the transfer. “The underway refueling on the water seemed much more stable than an on-shore refueling.”
Also present for the christening was Doyon Ltd. vice president of administration, Geri Simon. Doyon Ltd. is the Alaska Native regional corporation for Interior Alaska and a valued partner and stakeholder in TAPS. Right before Simon christened the vessel with a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider, she expressed appreciation for the care and concern given to oil spill response. “Alyeska continues to demonstrate its commitment to the partnership with the village response teams in protecting the subsistence areas along the pipeline corridor,” Simon said.
Alyeska VOC co-chairs Earl Rose and Ben Pennington and committee members Milton Moses, Fred Bethune and Larry Nutter are hard at work on the Copper Responder, a twin-engine 36-foot airboat landing craft, that is set to arrive on scene spring 2015. In terms of power and versatility, Yukon Responder is the Incredible Hulk where the Copper Responder will be like Iron Man.