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Alaskan grit, determination and pride

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Alaska's pipeline people / Keeping oil moving

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Gary Minish / Field Measurement Supervisor

Gary Minish is a Valdez-based Field Measurement Supervisor with 42 years and 3 months of service on TAPS. Today, he leads a small team of two measurement techs who monitor the performance of the metering and measurement systems at the Valdez Marine Terminal and the Petro Star connection. They track, trend and analyze overall system performance, ensuring that crude oil and fuel oil volume and quality determinations are accurate and meet the API standards used by the global industry. This also ensures that Alyeska’s leak detection systems, which depend on volume measurement, are consistently effective. Recently Gary answered some questions about current work, and how oil movements has evolved over the years.

Q: You’ve been involved with a major upgrade to the metering system along TAPS. How’s that going?

The EMAC (Electronic Measurement and Control) system upgrade has been a long and large project that replaces and enhances the electronic components of the older and completely obsolete measurement and control systems on TAPS. The first implementation was the incoming metering system at the VMT and the Petro Star metering system. Then, we moved up the pipeline to upgrade the North Pole, North Star and Kuparuk metering systems. The most recent upgrade project was the berth metering system back at VMT.

The upgrades started in 2008 and have evolved with significant design changes as we moved through the various projects and incorporated lessons learned from the earlier implementations. We still have one system left to upgrade (Sadlerochit), which will take place later this year.

Q: What are some of the benefits of the new system?

The primary benefits of the upgrades are:

·         Current electronic components that are available and maintainable

·         Improvements in the amount and availability of data from the measurement systems

·         Conversion from analog to digital field data in some systems, eliminating the criticality and maintenance hours of analog loop calibrations.

·         Additional sensors to detect valve seal failures eliminates manual verifications.

·         More flexible flow computer and server design will allow easier and faster modifications of core electronic and computer functions when requirements or standards change.

Q: Has metering changed over 40 years? How?

The core principles of metering/measurements have not changed much but the tools used to accomplish the execution of those core principles have changed drastically. When I initially got involved in oil measurements, prover calibration calculations were accomplished manually with no more than a 10 key basic calculator as a computational tool. Temperature and pressure compensation calculations used paper tables to determine correction constants and everyone involved typically came up with a different answer. Then we sat around and argued over the calculation methods until we determined who was correct. The initial custody transfer volume determination for the berth loadings was accomplished via hand gauging and sampling of tanks. Tank volume calculations were done manually also, using paper strapping tables and temperature correction tables.

Q: How have electronic measurements and control systems changed the way the work is done?

When the first electronic measurement and control system was installed it used a computer that had far less computational power than my HP-55 calculator, but it enabled us to use the meters for measurement instead of tank gauging which was a big relief for the operators at the time. Even with this improvement, we still had to operate the metering system valves with manual push buttons, and we had to perform manual meter proof operations and calculations.

Eventually, a new electronic system (designed by our oil measurement manager and Daniels Industry) was installed with individual flow meters and a supervisory computer plus a PLC to operate valves. I helped develop, test and implement that system. The automated metering systems enabled us to prove meters much more frequently, plus the data was more readily available and by analyzing that data, we soon learned more about meter performance than the manufacturers of the meter and applied that knowledge to minimize maintenance costs and significantly improve measurement accuracy. The process sensor technology (temperature & pressure sensors and transmitters) improved significantly over the years and further increased reliability and accuracy.

The Daniels metering systems lasted a remarkable 30 years but became unsupportable, leading to the new OMNI Flow Computer based systems that we are currently installing line wide. The establishment of sophisticated electronic metering systems on an international basis also resulted in requirements for new API standards to ensure consistency in methodology and measurement. Overall, it has been a continuous evolution and improvement process which has provided the challenges, learning and interest that has kept me here.

Q: What is something you wish everyone knew about oil movements/metering or your job?

Failures of the measurement systems have very little impact on the cost of operation for Alyeska but can have a very large impact to the bottom line of the oil owners. TAPS is a common carrier pipeline, which means that oil parcels shipped through it are mixed, and it’s oil measurement’s job to determine the volume and quality of oil as it enters the pipeline, and as it exits. Real dollars are exchanged between the affected parties based purely on our determinations. Since the volumes of the parcels are very large, even tiny errors in that determination result in monetary losses (and gains) that are quite significant. So that’s why measurement people are so concerned about the performance and reliability of the metering and measurement systems! 

Q: Do you have a favorite day on TAPS?

I have had so many “favorite” days that I don’t think I could pick one. My favorite type of day is one where I have learned something new and resolved a significant challenge.

Norb Chowaniec / Operations Engineer

Most people think of the trans-Alaska pipeline system as an 800 mile 4-foot-diameter steel pipe that at any point in time, carries over 9 million barrels of crude.
 
That’s not how Norb Chowaniec sees it. 
 
To Norb, the pipeline is 2.7 billion pounds of crude – a columnar mass of oil that crosses three mountain ranges in a dazzling exchange of energy, oscillating between slow and fast velocities and low and high pressures. Across TAPS, where conversations about work bring multiple disciplines to the table, Norb’s hydraulic engineering perspective proves unique and invaluable in managing some of TAPS most high-risk, high-profile, and high-intensity work. 
 
For that, and for a long legacy of contributions on TAPS dating back to the 1970s, Norb is this year’s Atigun Award winner for Engineer of the Year.  
 
Norb is proud of the role he plays in translating pipeline hydraulics into relevancy that helps teams across TAPS make risk-informed decisions. Take, for example, how we manage Inline Inspection Tool runs, commonly called ILIs. 
 
“When we’re doing ILIs over Atigun Pass, the crude column from Atigun to Pump Station 9 is roughly 1.2 billion pounds of crude,” Norb explained during a recent morning conversation in his office at OCC. “From Atigun into Pump Station 9, that’s the weight of about five aircraft carriers. This is where conservation of energy comes in. You’re constantly dealing with force; that 1.2 billion pounds is a unit of force. When you get your energy exchanges, knowing the when and where of changing pressures and velocities, that’s the path to truly understanding the partnership between conservation of energy and Bernoulli’s equation. 
 
“Knowing these things helps the OCC and the field do their job better, especially under abnormal operating conditions.” 
 
Like many on TAPS, Norb has enjoyed a professional history of evolving accountabilities. It all began when he was hired as a maintenance technician on December 13, 1976. Only four other Alyeska employees currently on payroll were hired before that.
 
EARLY DAYS 
 
Norb’s Midwestern grandparents were farmers who brought the family to Alaska in 1935 as part of the Matanuska Colony project. After graduating from Palmer High School, a draft notice had Norb enlisting into the Navy. Norb served aboard a destroyer escort, working on 1200-pound PSI boilers which provided electric generation and propulsion to the boat. The boat did serve in a combat zone. After that, he returned home to Alaska for a job at a coal-fired power plant at Clear Air Force Station in the Interior.
 
This background in power generation served him well in landing a job as a maintenance technician at the brand-new Power Vapor Facility on the Valdez Marine Terminal. 
 
“It was exciting times,” Norb recalled. “Brand new pipeline. Hadn’t even started up yet.”
 
Nearing the June 20, 1977, startup, the Power Vapor crew received loads of training and classes. Norb found himself at a journeyman level thanks to his prior work history. “But the lion’s share of new employees at Alyeska back then did not have that kind of experience.”
 
Times were very different then, Norb said – nothing like our working culture today. He was bothered in particular by how women were treated by male coworkers. Alyeska had committed that a certain quota of hires would be minorities , and some women were seizing that opportunity for high-paying jobs, even if they (along with the majority of their male counterparts) lacked industrial experience. Regardless, some men just didn’t like that, Norb said.  
 
“I remember one class on steam  generation, and the woman didn’t have any steam generation background. She started asking these guys for study-group help and they basically pushed her to the side. Well that wasn’t right. I said, ‘Come over here, I’ll help you do it.’” 
 
Forty years later, recalling that, Norb smiled, and said: “Two people got A’s in that class. The rest of them did not – not even close.” 
 
BACK TO SCHOOL 
 
A turning point: in late fall 1979, at Pump Station 8, Norb spent almost three days in a deep ditch, bending over to wrap and reinsulate exposed process lines at -10 F. 
 
“Here I was in my late 20s, and after two-and-a-half days of bending over, putting this insulation on, squeezing it with your knees, putting this banding material on and squeezing it tight, my lower back was killing me,” he said. “And I thought, ‘You know, Alyeska is going to expect me to do this when I’m in my 50s – ugh.’” 
 
So, after some night schooling 1979 and 1980, Norb enrolled at University of Alaska in 1981. He would go on to be the first of his family to earn a college degree when he earned his Mechanical Engineering Degree in 1985.. 
 
“I come from a family of farmers, both sides,” he said. “Basically, the whole concept of higher education was not on our radar.”
 
At the time, Alaska forgave a generous portion of student loans when students remained in the state workforce for five years after graduation. That incentive meant the out-of-pocket cost to Norb would be around $12,000 for that degree. 
In hindsight, considering true economics, losses in wages and 401K contributions, “I think I set a world record for most expensive degree,” Norb said. “When you add it all up, my Bachelor of Science degree probably cost close to $350,000.” 
 
After graduating, Norb rejoined Alyeska as a BWT tech until an engineer position opened nine months later. He’s remained in engineering ever since.
 
“College surprised me in a couple of different ways,” Norb said. “As the math got more complicated I got better at it. I just never would have guessed that. It started dawning on me, we people are probably toughest on ourselves. There are hidden talents within us all and the only way you’re ever going to find those hidden talents is to reach down there and dig it out. You don’t know what you don’t know about yourself. And you have to challenge yourself to really see where you can go. That’s what I took away from college.” 
 
NEW LIFE ON TAPS
 
That willingness to challenge himself has defined Norb’s career. During his time on TAPS, he has lived in PLQs at Pump Stations 1, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12, has worked in Valdez a couple different times, at the Anchorage headquarters, in Fairbanks, and now is at the OCC.  
 
He retains fond memories of his office at Pump Station 12, the pretty views out his windows, spectacular Alaska scenery and the rolling mountains of the Chugach Range. One engineering job had him roving between Pump Stations 5 through 8, “just constantly going back and forth.”
 
His role as an engineer remains heavily influenced by his time as a technician. He respects the symbiotic relationship between the two disciplines and their dependence on each other for success. 
 
Between technicians’ experience and engineers’ academic discipline, you have what you need to solve a problem, Norb said. 
 
“The real key is communication,” he said. “Technicians have their hands on the process and if you ask the right question, the right answer comes out, and you can solve problems. Our educations are different, and our disciplines, the way we look at things are different, but at the end of the day we’re still working on the same system and I believe it’s the engineer’s responsibility to include the workforce in problem-solving and design improvements.”
 
Norb usually gets to work around 6:40 a.m., and first thing, visits the controllers in the inner sanctum of the OCC: the control room. 
 
“Even an off-handed comment by the people who have their hands on the mechanism, just overhearing that you can say, ‘Maybe I need to look into that,’” Norb said. “By becoming familiar with me, they don’t have any issues about asking any question and I think that benefits the company. At the end of the day, my job is to help them do their jobs successfully.” 
 
ANOTHER CAREER CHANGE
 
In 2008, Norb’s parents’ health prompted him to seek a work relocation from Fairbanks to Anchorage to be nearer to them. The only open position was a hydraulic engineer.  
 
“I always thought it was complicated,” he said. “I found out who the supervisor was and asked him if it would be OK if I gave it a try, he said, ‘Why not?’ It took two, maybe three years to get my feet on the ground with regards to hydraulics. It turns out it’s actually much simpler than I originally thought.”  
 
Now Norb sees the pipeline for its mass, its shifting energy, and the speed and pressure of the fluid. The contents of the mainline at any given time are equivalent in weight to 11 super aircraft carriers, as Norb puts it. 
 
Hydraulics come into play in the event of a leak, or potential for over-pressurization, when running ILI tools, or when conducting drain downs to isolate pipe sections for work. 
 
“If any time you were to stop the pipe, stop the column of crude and not do anything, it would break or overstress a bunch of pipe along the route,” Norb said.  
 
Norb is particularly proud of the careful hydraulic work around two shutdowns last summer that required opening the pipe twice to atmosphere to do check valve work. 
 
During the first shutdown, in April 2018, crews had to drain back more than 29,000 barrels of crude across about 2.6 miles of pipe into Pump Station 9’s Tank 190 to repair a check valve clapper shaft seal and address an emergent crude leak at Check Valve 92. 
 
At a second shutdown, in June 2018, teams drained back more than 47,000 barrels of crude within about 4.2 miles of pipe to replace the 6-inch bypass line and its two bypass valves at Check Valve 23. 
 
What transpired to make this work possible involved using a booster pump, pump station 1 and 3 relief tanks, and a reverse flow technique that Norb called “very, very abnormal” which moved a 420+ million-pound column of crude within roughly 124 miles of mainline pipe. 
 
“Not only were the procedures developed with the upmost care and concern for personnel and asset safety; they were spot-on in regards to drainback volumes, estimated time to complete the drainbacks, and associated pipeline pressures to expect once the drainbacks were completed,” said Hillary Schaefer, System Wide Maintenance Manager, in nominating Norb for an Atigun. “He knocked it out of the park! Norb’s knowledge of pipeline hydraulics and allowable pressures along the system is an extremely valuable asset.”
 
Crude oil system pressure boundaries were successfully and safely drained and depressurized, then re-pressurized during the course of the shutdown activities.
 
“The people in the field were the ones that had all the skin in the game and the risk,” Norb said. “If they open something and it’s not adequately drained down, they’d have oil all over the place. To safely do this type of work is at the top of everybody’s list. You make people aware of the forces they’re dealing with, talk about procedures with risk assessments and what have you, and the people out in the field implement it.”
 
Now Norb is in a position of mentoring other ops engineers, documenting his teachings, and working across the company to ensure the effects of pipeline hydraulics are factored into decision making, planning and work execution. 
 
NEXT STEPS 
 
Norb’s office tells the story of his longevity; a crystal award on his desk marks 20 years of service, and a framed certificate on his wall commemorates 35.  
 
He is preparing to retire – likely in a year or two. He’s seen others go that route and ended up returning to work because they’re unhappy or bored. So he’s exploring new hobbies, like taking dance classes, tutoring high school students, or having a miniature farm.
 
“I’m finding what you need to do is redefine what purpose is,” Norb said. “Purpose doesn’t have to be long-term commitments. You need to redefine it, and that’s work in progress for me.
 
“We each should be masters of our own destiny.” 

Rita Heidkamp / TAPS Shutdown Coordinator

After more than 42 years of operations, regular, and sometimes substantial, maintenance and repair work are essential to keep TAPS operating efficiently and safely. That means planned TAPS shutdowns are necessities – some work simply can’t be performed while oil is flowing.
 
As TAPS Shutdown Coordinator, Rita Heidkamp has been the recognized face and voice of TAPS shutdowns for 10-plus years. Over that span, she’s been on the frontlines of some of the most successful, significant and challenging shutdowns.
 
There are certainly parallels between her regular position as Pipeline Maintenance Coordinator and her role as Shutdown Coordinator. As Pipeline Maintenance Coordinator, she’s responsible for integrating work across multiple stations and working closely with the OCC team to ensure they’re ready for equipment to be taken out of service when the technicians are ready to perform the work.
 
“There is always a give and take between maintenance and operations,” she said. “A solid maintenance program gives operations the confidence the equipment will perform flawlessly when needed.”
 
She added, “And during shutdowns, my role is essentially the same – ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction toward a common goal with a common understanding.”
 
As she and many TAPS teams hit the home stretch of the 2019 shutdown season, and as she prepares for her retirement in December after 20-plus years with Alyeska, Rita shared some of her shutdown thoughts and experiences.
 
What does the energy of a shutdown day feel like for you?
I think shutdowns are very different for the Shutdown Coordinator than they are for the people doing the work. For the coordinator it’s all about the preparation. Come actual shutdown day, we say it’s our job to be bored to tears while all eyes are on OCC and the people implementing the work. But, there’s still a sense of nervous excitement in the FEOC as OCC shuts down the pipeline. Every time the phone rings, your heart jumps – will it be good news that work is progressing to plan? Or will it be an unforeseen stumbling block or a leak? Fortunately, history tells us the majority of calls we get are good news.
 
How far in advance do teams start preparing for shutdown season? 
Shutdown planning is constant. We begin tracking potential shutdown work as soon as it’s identified – sometimes 2-3 years in advance. The planning cycle for the next year starts in earnest as soon as the last shutdown of the year is complete. We conduct a meeting with all Activity Leads and project managers that have work that may require a shutdown and ask a series of questions: Can the work be completed in 10 hours during a short-duration shutdown or will it require a major maintenance shutdown? Is the work considered a driver – the reason we’re having a shutdown – or is it more opportunistic and could be done during any shutdown? Can it be performed during the same shutdown as other driver work? Everyone comes to the table with their preferred date and duration, but in the end, we adjust a little here and there to find dates that minimize the number of shutdowns while safely accommodating the requirements of all the driver work. 
 
And then there’s a different type of advance work in the days and hours leading up to a shutdown, right?
TAPS employs a talented and dedicated workforce combined with strong processes and procedures that keep us safe and oil in the pipe day in and day out. Our shutdown philosophy leverages all those processes and adds as thin a layer of additional controls as needed. These additional controls include a Simultaneous-Ops review which looks at all scopes as a single work package. This review ensures all work is compatible, procedures have appropriate hold points, and identifies risks and appropriate mitigations.
 
The Readiness Review process is also very powerful. It’s signed by the entire chain of command, from the person doing the work to the facility owner to the Maintenance Manager, then reviewed by accountable directors and the Sr. VP of Operations and Maintenance. Every person must agree we are “Ready” before a shutdown proceeds. Readiness is validated again 24 hours before the shutdown at the Greenlight Meeting and then just 30 minutes before the shutdown starts at the Go-No Go meeting. We are careful not to get complacent. There have been several times when a shutdown has been postponed or work removed from a shutdown based on information at these meetings. 
 
Shutting down, and eventually restarting, TAPS is one of the highest-risk aspects of our work. Talk about keeping our people, the environment and the pipeline safe during a shutdown.
Shutting down and restarting is risky and considered an abnormal operating condition. What’s interesting is the tanks at PS01 could be just as full at the end of a 12-hour shutdown as a 36-hour shutdown, proration or no proration, so the same process is used for both. It’s like flying a plane – the biggest risks are in the takeoff and landing, regardless the duration of the flight. 
 
In my mind the unsung heroes of the shutdown are the people working at the OCC. While there’s much focus on the actual work being performed, OCC is responsible for writing the shutdown and restart procedure, ensuring all work is released in the appropriate order, and then safely restarting the line after all work is complete. They practice the shutdown and restart on the Pipeline Simulator.
 
And even after restart there’s still work to be done to finalize the shutdown. OCC remains in a heightened state of awareness until the tanks at PS01 are back to a standard operating level. Civil Maintenance Coordinators and Security do a complete aerial surveillance of the pipeline looking for weeps or unusual movement. On-foot ground surveillance of any mainline valve that moved during the shutdown is also conducted.
 
The organization’s integrated approach to its work continues evolving. How will it strengthen the coordination and completion of future shutdowns?
It’s exciting to see how seamlessly planned shutdowns fit into the new process. It will take shutdowns to the next level as we will have even better visibility, earlier in the process, to know if the engineering is on track, if the procedures are being drafted and reviewed, and what the status of the materials is.
 
Talk about your 10-plus years of shutdown experiences, and how things have changed or not changed?
I owe much of my success to the people who developed the bones of shutdown process including Jim F. Johnson, John Baldridge and Mike Joynor. Much of the shutdown process is the same as it was 10, 15 and even 20 years ago. In the early years, each person brought their own “flavor” to the role of Shutdown Coordinator. Sometimes the flavor changed rapidly, even changing between the year’s first and last shutdown. Our current process is very stable, predictable and well-documented. Once we hold our first shutdown meeting of the year – typically about two months before the first shutdown – the process does not change until after the last shutdown. The other significant change is moving from one or two 36-hour major maintenance shutdowns in a year that were jammed with work at all locations to strategically utilizing short-duration shutdowns to spread the work out into smaller more manageable chunks. 
 
But the biggest change has been due to advances in technology. We have the Shutdown site to communicate information. But most importantly, we have visibility into the system and tank levels during the entire shutdown.
 
You shared how it feels to be in the middle of a shutdown. How about the feelings following a successful shutdown? 
When the pipeline is up and running and oil is flowing over Atigun Pass again, I can’t help but think, “I love it when a plan comes together.” And there is a sense of relief when oil is flowing again and the tanks at Pump Station 1 begin to be drawn down. The biggest feeling is one of pride that I work with the best of the best in the industry who live our cultural attributes of safety and environmental protection. 
 
Thanks for sharing your shutdown expertise and experiences! Anything else you’d like to add?
As I prepare to retire in December, it’s been an honor to have been part of this shutdown process at Alyeska and on TAPS. Shutdown Coordinator is a role, not a person, and I am confident shutdowns will continue to be successful. I have enjoyed participating as part of an amazing team.

Pete Nagel / Land Manager

Need a map of specific segment of TAPS? Ask Peter "Pete" Nagel. He can likely offer up the appropriate record and probably provide some historical information from memory. After 27 years as Alyeska's Land Manager, many believe he knows every mile of the TAPS right-of-way as well as, or better than, anyone.

Looking for a roadmap to professional success? Follow Pete's path. He's the 2019 Atigun Award President's Choice for Professional of the Year. The honor recognizes a career of smart and thorough work; his availability and reliability for coworkers, agencies, the public and anyone who interacts with the TAPS right-of-way; and a steady demeanor balanced by wit.

"Pete Nagel is our greatest resource," wrote Jason Green, ROW Maintenance at PS4. "To quantify Pete’s achievements would be impossible, as he is the man behind the scenes of so many of our accomplishments on TAPS for the last 27 years. … Pete works all 800 miles of pipeline, Terminal and right-of-way with the highest level of professionalism that can be found."

Of the Atigun Award, Pete said, "When I got this news, I saw this parade of faces of people I work with. All the talent, all the dedication of the people here. It’s gratifying and humbling."

As for his reputation of being the TAPS right-of-way wiz?

"People think I know it better than I do know it," he said, smiling. "I have been to every part of the right-of-way by helicopter or ground, and I know where more than a few boundary markers are situated. And an affinity with maps helps me visualize many areas together with recollections of past visits. Ground truth always needs refreshing though, and I never hesitate to throw out a request for current conditions to those in the field."

***

People come to Pete with questions – lots of questions – and he is known for having answers. Topics include, but are not limited to, land ownership and contact information; permits and regulations, rents due and appraisals; joint ROW use and letters of non-objection; wetlands and navigable waters, culturally sensitive areas and boundaries; drills and drones; land use stipulations; and contacts and protocols for public agencies such as ADOTPF, NSB, USDOD and EVOSTC.

People also come to Pete with requests – lots of requests – and he is known for always assisting. Jason Green summed up Pete's partnership, writing, "Replacing a mainline valve, restoring a fish stream, accessing areas beyond the right of way, crushing aggregate in an operations material site … I could go on and on. You need Pete to help execute that task."

And then there's Pete's own task list that's practically as long and complex as the pipeline: acquiring the rights and permits needed to operate and maintain TAPS while also managing the use of land along its route.

"There are 400 million acres in Alaska – why does everyone have to crowd along the pipeline?" he joked.

Pete's keys to organization and right-of-way rigor? "I compartmentalize. Acquisition always wins. Then management, which is usually accommodating people who aren't TAPS. … We are good neighbors – that’s our culture. I am an advocate for TAPS over and over, and there are times when it is necessary to advocate for private property owners and others who have rights, albeit limited, in the right-of-way. … Sometimes I call it finding the 'unhappy medium' – the sweet spot where everyone is equally stressed, or better, has an equal share in the peace."

***

What puts Pete at peace? Helping others succeed in their work. Benefiting his family. Working with TAPS maps and expanding his geographic knowledge of Alaska.

In fact, maps are part of many of Pete's pursuits, from work to play. They've always been there, and he's always been intrigued by them.

"Perhaps it was that major in Classical Studies – maps of the ancient archipelagos and grand traverses must have caught my fancy," said the Yale grad. "And, as our children grew, we'd pull out the maps every trip, whether fishing near home or driving to Glennallen."

Following college, he was leaning toward a career in law, but a craving for first-hand experience in land and natural resource management led him north.

"Alaska was, and is, very dynamic," he said.

After stints hanging sheetrock for the U.S. Forest Service and commercial fishing, his career transitioned, and he quickly found himself working amid some of Alaska’s largest legal landmarks for land and natural resources.

For 10 years, he helped implement the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Then he was in the Chugach Alaska Corporation's Land Department when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in the heart of the region.

Years later, his initial assignment to manage gravel for Alyeska was seemingly simple and short-lived. He was swiftly brought into the effort to wrap up the 9-mile Atigun reroute and corral permits needed for additional buildout of the company’s spill response capabilities.

"We were building roads, reopening roads, building boat ramps, clearing first response containment sites," he said. "Chuck Strub was in charge and needed 1,400 permits. It was all hands on deck."

And suddenly, his hands were on original TAPS maps. Ever since, he's continued learning about, and sharing his knowledge of, every mile of TAPS and the land it travels.

"Almost daily, I’m researching in the same files created by the agents who acquired the rights-of-way to build and operate TAPS," he said. "They started in 1969, and their files, still at my fingertips, continue to provide vital answers to deal with current challenges."

After 27 years at Alyeska, Pete credits his longevity to, "my wife, Mary, the inspiration from my children and coworkers, old and young, and the Alyeska culture. This culture is a precious thing, and I am grateful to my first boss here, Dennis Prendeville, for showing me the way."

Pete has played roles in countless projects and milestones, and through it all, he proudly notes, "We've never been to court over joint use of the right-of-way; that's good."

But for decades, one dotted line haunted him. He explained: "In 2015, we got the final signature which had been missing since 1975 when the first agreement was signed to cross a certain parcel of private land. It was the last piece in the bona fide TAPS right-of-way. The landowner team moved slowly, and there was potential for litigation, eminent domain and eviction. But Alyeska stayed responsive, respectful. When I got the call that the signature was delivered, I let out this 'Whoop!' from my desk, which doesn’t happen often. People came running."

And they keep running to him. And calling him. And emailing him. For his help, his humor, his calm guidance, and his knowledge of that 800-mile right-of-way.

"I've been in some far-away places in Alaska, and working in the slice of geography that TAPS occupies is a privilege," he said. "It's a wonderful challenge, and if I can help the company in its mission, I am lucky."

Cindy Keuler / Environment Program Coordinator

When three Alyeska Environment team members submitted an Atigun Award nomination about colleague Cindy Keuler, they didn’t simply provide a laundry list of adjectives. They described Cindy and her work with academic rigor, referencing articles like, "In Search of Excellence," "Some characteristics of high-reliability organizations," and "The Characteristics of High Performance Organizations."

It was a thoughtful approach, and a successful one, too: Cindy is receiving a 2019 Atigun Award for Integrity. But you don't need to cite published journal articles to find phrases of praise for Cindy. Anyone who works with her can quickly sum her work up in simpler, yet equally powerful, terms. Patience and professionalism. Diligence and dependability. Leading by example. And most of all, integrity.

"She is one who makes good on promises and commitments and follows company ethical standards to the letter," the group wrote. "And perhaps the most notable of all of Cindy's qualities is the almost unattainable standard to which she holds herself."

Cindy said there's simply no other way to do things. Her Environment team's work, Alyeska's reputation, the safety of pipeline people and Alaska's environment, and the operations of TAPS – not to mention her own work and reputation – are just too important.

"Reputation and integrity go hand in hand. … Integrity at Alyeska – we do the right thing no matter if it's not the most well-received thing," she said. "Take responsibility, own it, move on. This company stands for something. Our mission statement isn't just words on a dry erase board."

She added, "And I was raised with certain values – integrity, doing the right thing. I'm not 100 percent at it, but it is something I strive for."

When asked how her belief system and work ethic became something she lived and breathed, Cindy noted the example of family. Both of Cindy's parents set high standards for her and her siblings; top among them were honesty and integrity. She wishes her mom was alive to celebrate this recognition with her. "I think she would be proud," Cindy said.

***

While perfection is elusive, the importance, sensitivity, visibility and pressure of Cindy's work reflects, and even demands, the highest standards.

Jim Lawlor, Environment Coordinator Supervisor, wrote, "No single position at Alyeska has more routine contact with regulatory agencies than Cindy, who serves as the spill reporting coordinator for Alyeska."

While her Environment Program Coordinator role covers a wide range of task bullets that support and elevate her teammates, of highest importance is her administration of Alyeska's Spill Compliance Reporting System and the Environment Team's Environmental Management System.

"The primary focus of my job is spill reporting, internally and externally – if there's a drop of product to water we have to report it, these are the standards we are held to by the Grant and Lease and we live up to them," she said. "We've had some unfortunate events over the years, but we learned from them, don't repeat them, and try our best to prevent them. If you look at API's spill reporting from pipelines across the country you will see that Alyeska's is one of the best in the country. That alone says we are doing things right on TAPS."

***

Cindy arrived at Alyeska in 2000 after 17 years of working a variety of positions on the North Slope – from office administration to accounting manager to scheduler. She made the most of that time, having fun with fellow workers and gaining insights on Alaska's oil and gas industry and TAPS.

"For some people on the Slope, it would get humdrum, they'd complain and I'd think, 'You spend half your life up here, if you don't want to do it, leave,'" she said. "One day, I found myself feeling the same way."

So she quit, gave herself a six-month break, then dove back into the working world, landing at Alyeska in a pivotal role on a massive project: coordinator on the Right of Way Renewal Project team, charged with helping to write the Environmental Impact Statement. She made a good impression and stuck around, landing in Environment.

"It was a natural fit"” she said.

And after nearly 20 years at Alyeska, does she ever get that humdrum sensation?

"I have yet to feel that way here," she said, smiling. "I love the work and my team. The work that we do makes a difference and I am very proud of that. They're some of the most dedicated and best people I've have ever worked with and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this team and Alyeska. I appreciate what this company does for me, for our communities and our state."

Of receiving the Atigun recognition, Cindy said, "I'm very surprised; it's really cool and a little uncomfortable because I'm not used to being in the spotlight. And the most touching for me is who nominated me: three people from my team who I have absolute respect for. Truly, all of it comes back to the Environment team. I'm simply trying to emulate the people from my team."

Melody Shangin / Electrical Engineer

Meet Alyeska's rockstar electrical engineer Melody Shangin. NBC News Learn recently spotlighted Melody and her work to inspire America's -- and Alaska's -- future engineers! Visit www.nbclearn.com/engineering/cuecard/117615 to hear her story and tour TAPS with her.

 

 

 

 

 

Janine Boyette / Response & Remediation SME

When TAPS is having a bad day, Janine Boyette must have her best day.
 
Spills. Contaminated sites. Sensitive groundwater and dangerous drinking water. Complicated sustainability initiatives. Regulatory compliance and ethical consequences. Boyette's work as Response & Remediation SME puts her at the center of some of TAPS messiest messes. It's her job to coordinate and assist others to minimize and mitigate those messes swiftly, responsibly and thoroughly.
 
"We don't enjoy crises," she said, "but I do enjoy resolving them. I like being part of the solution."
 
On messy and normal days, pipeline people want Boyette on their team. She's been an Alyeska employee for around two years, but has already made an impressive impression – she was recently named the 2018 Atigun Award recipient for Integrity. She is also a member of the group receiving the Environment Atigun Award, received an Atigun honorable mention nod for another Environment group project, and was nominated for Professional of the Year.
 
Yes, 2017, her first full year on the job, was busy for Boyette. She supported positive outcomes for the Aqueous Film Forming Foam water testing and Spill Prevention working groups, resolution of environmental uncertainties associated with construction-era property use, promotion of recycling and sustainability initiatives, and partnership with agencies and internal clients to support compliance, best results and trust.
 
"Janine is relatively new to APSC, but in the time I have worked with her, I have been consistently impressed with her professionalism, dedication and knowledge," wrote Kim Kortenhof, Fairbanks Contingency Response Planning Lead and fellow Atigun Award winner. "Working with Janine has enabled us to streamline data management and to coordinate efforts across differing regulations to present a company compliance posture that is managed, reportable, consistent, and drawn from a common set of information."
 
Jan Shifflett, Sr. Environmental Manager and Boyette's boss, added, "Janine led and supported numerous important work tasks and initiatives with complex technical and ethical implications. In each situation, she helped create a path forward that strictly adhered to Alyeska’s code of conduct and best represented our mission, vision, and cultural attributes."
 
For Boyette, the Atigun honor is rewarding and a tad embarrassing. On the topic, she said, "Integrity to me means being intentional and authentic. If we act with intention, and keep authenticity and transparency in how we’re doing it, it’s not hard to have integrity."
 
Then, she added, "It's important to recognize great work and integrity. But does someone who worked here for two years even get the time to prove that they deserve such an honor? I still have a lot to learn!"
 
Boyette is no stranger to TAPS, Alyeska or the responsibilities of working in Alaska's spectacular and precious environment, though. She was a longtime environmental consultant whose gigs included working on fishing vessels in the Bering Sea, kayaking through Southeast Alaska, spill response and remediation on the North Slope, and participating at large drills with Alyeska and others in Valdez. It was there that Boyette envisioned her career path leading to Alyeska.
 
"You get a big dose of teamwork under very stressful situations and you get to see everybody at their best," she said. "Alyeska's people were the best at what they did, so I started looking for opportunities to work with them."
 
In 2016, she joined Alyeska as an environmental coordinator. The majority of her first year was spent traveling TAPS, usually in a truck with Jim Lawlor, an Environment teammate, 2016 Atigun Award Professional of the Year, and something of a legend for his many years of respected work and reputation on TAPS. Boyette's TAPS transition was eased as they talked during road trips, walks around facilities, sites and the TAPS right of way, and visits with workers in the field. Organically, the baton was passed.
 
"Working with Jim, I was concerned that it would take time for people to come to me instead of him," Boyette said. "It was the opposite. Jim endorsed me and that's all it took. It was up to me not to disappoint him and to maintain that trust with everyone."
 
The integrity honor is evidence that she's upheld that confidence with her teammates in the field and beyond. Now as Alyeska's Response & Remediation SME, she's among the first people on the phone or on the scene when messes bubble up – recent examples include the Berth 5 spill, the drinking water concerns at PS05 and PS07, and the monitoring of numerous contaminated sites.
 
Boyette explained that her key to earning trust and successful mitigations is empowering others to do what they are great at.
 
"I take my lead from everyone else – I'm a vessel to get things done," she said. "You need to have a willingness to take on a larger position of work so everyone can focus on their work and their important decisions."
 
Tough questions, difficult decisions, and big challenges are the norm in Boyette's working world. She'd have it no other way. She said she "loves nothing more than when our team gets a question that we don’t have the answer to. We have to research, ask questions, make changes. Maybe the way we’ve done it is not the right way anymore."
 
Boyette's in a place where those decisions and her work can make a major and instant impact on outcomes: Alyeska. (It's also a place where her husband, Eric Boyette, recently started working as a pipeline labs supervisor.)
 
"Working at Alyeska is so much better than I thought it would be – the experience has far exceeded my expectations," she said. "We really do walk the walk here. The stewardship for safety, the environment, quality is exceptional here. No one does it better."
 
She added, "I'm happy to be at Alyeska, where the stakes and the bar for performance work are high. We are required to do it better than everyone else and that’s how we do it here."

Reva Paulsen / Assistant Chief of Staff

It's a true reflection of Reva Paulsen's character when she tells you about how she turned the worst day of her 41-plus years of working at Alyeska into a positive.
 
It was 1997, her 20th year at Alyeska, and the company was reorganizing. A new CFO was hired and bringing an administrative assistant. Reva, and her impeccable track record and institutional knowledge, was no longer needed.
 
"I remember how devastated I felt; I was out of a job," she recalled. "I went home that day a mess, had a good cry, prayed about it with my husband, and then I accepted it. (Shortly after) I was offered a job in IT. I had no idea what they did! But I said yes and worked for the CIO, who was also new. It was a wonderful experience and whole new work opportunities for me. I loved the people and I learned new things. It was one of the best decisions in my career."
 
In a workplace of constant change, highs and lows, comings and goings – in operations, personnel, throughput, oil prices – Reva is a model of calm and class, dependability and positivity. It's her trademark since she arrived in 1977, it's how she carries herself today as Assistant Chief of Staff, and it's how she responded when the executive who bypassed her returned to talk two years later.
 
"The individual ended up apologizing," Reva said. "And then asked me if I'd like to work for them, and I did. I found that person to be absolutely amazing and supportive in every way."
 
Anyone who's worked with Reva says the same about her, which is why she is being recognized with the 2018 President's Atigun Award for Lifetime Achievement.
 
"For 41 years she has contributed enormously to Alyeska's success," explained Tom Barrett, Alyeska President. "I believe she, as much as anyone including myself and various presidents who have moved through the front office, has been instrumental in setting an enduring positive culture for this entire company. I am simply very grateful every day for the opportunity to work here with her. I know no one at Alyeska who doesn't feel the same way."
 
Reva might be the only one. Unflinchingly straightforward yet warm and modest, she said, "I'm extremely humbled. What an honor, especially coming from Tom. What did I do to deserve this? I'm just doing my job, which I love."
 
---
 
When it comes to her 41 years of supporting countless departments, coworkers, managers and executives, "love" might be an understatement. Organization and attention to detail. Mastering the always evolving tools of her trade. Efficiency and reliability. Listening, reading body language, anticipating needs, communicating. Performing under pressure. Being a trusted teammate and confidante. For Reva, it isn't work – it's how she's wired.
 
"It's my thing," she said. "Always has been."
 
Growing up in the small town of Osceola, Iowa, she practiced dictation while watching the TV news. In high school, she gleaned all she could from her favorite teacher, Mrs. Swaney, and finished top of her class in shorthand and typing (a blazing 120 words per minute, thank you very much).
 
In 1976, she was living in Nevada with her husband, an Air Force member working in avionics, when they received orders to relocate to Elmendorf. Reva flew to a new life in the Last Frontier.
 
"I never planned on staying," she said.
 
But she did plan on staying busy. When a friend told her that Alyeska was hiring, she jumped at the opportunity. Her professional proficiency and typing speed landed her a Litigation Data Entry Specialist position. Reva's pretty sure she's held 14 positions since, all of them in Anchorage – she isn't positive, though, because she hasn't updated her resume in 41 years.
 
She acclimated quickly, flexing the skills she honed growing up and creating a tight camaraderie with company leaders and fellow admins, a few who remain friends and coworkers today. Even then, she was known for her maturity and professionalism.
 
"In Accounting, they called me mom," she said. It was the late '80s and she was younger than most coworkers in the department.
 
---
 
It's those who truly know her as mom, and grandma, who are her foundation. Reva enjoys gardening and baking, and always puts family first. Every Sunday, her two grown children, four grandkids and an assortment of friends old and new gather at her and her husband's place for dinner.
 
Reva starts each morning on the phone with her grandchildren, usually as her now retired husband gives them rides to school. She tells them to have a great day. They reply that they love her.
 
"It makes my day," she said.
 
It's no wonder she always carries – and is admired for – an optimistic, steady demeanor.
 
"She is knowledgeable, cheerful, considerate and always, despite what may be breaking loose, calm with a positive, caring attitude," said Barrett, who has worked with Reva since he was hired in January 2011 and elevated her to Assistant Chief of Staff in 2015.
 
"What I enjoy most about Reva is that she is always smiling, happy and truly genuine," added Melanie Wagg, Executive Assistant in the Law Department and one of the few employees who has worked at Alyeska longer than Reva (42 years). "Reva is a true professional and is always calm, no matter the situation."
 
One situation Reva's never found herself in after 41 years at Alyeska – standing on a cold, remote stretch of the TAPS right of way.
 
"I haven't traveled the pipeline," she said with a laugh. "I can't tell you why. I'm just a home girl."
 
After 41 years, she remains most comfortable in the office, surrounded by the buzz of a busy day and working with people. So much has changed – technology ("The invention of the computer has been our downfall in some ways, a blessing in others"), the way people dress at work ("I miss the suit and tie days"), and titles ("I've never been offended being called a secretary. People prefer admin assistant, but what's the difference?") – and so much remains unchanged. She's always surrounded by good people, a new challenge to conquer, and an opportunity to help and shine.
 
"If you have to work, you should enjoy what you do – and I love what I do," she said. "People sincerely care about each other here. Alyeska's outreach in the community speaks volumes. ... And each person I've worked for has been so unique and different. You learn their personality and leadership style and adjust if you need to. It makes for a great team. And I got along with everyone."
 
She added, "It will be hard to say goodbye someday. My sweet husband has been retired for nine years already! He always says, 'You'll know when it's time.'"

Dave Heimke / Director of Engineering

Dave Heimke doesn't drop anchor very often.
 
Whether sailing across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Australia or navigating a career that’s taken him from cold and remote Antarctica, to warm and remote South America, to cold and remote Bush Alaska, Heimke has always looked for the next challenge, the next adventure.
 
In recent years, the intrepid electrical engineer has slowed down for a job, organization and team he loves: working at Alyeska and on TAPS. After years in the field – the better part of five as a contractor, nearly eight more as a direct hire – he's even anchored down at a desk in the CPW as Alyeska's acting Director of Engineering.
 
"I broke my record of staying in one company," he said with a smile. "Four-and-a-half years, that was the time for me to do something different – go travel for six months or a year, then see what's out there. But at Alyeska, it's really entertaining working here. … We're doing more engineering now than we did with the original engineering. I've never been bored yet."
 
Heimke's Alyeska and TAPS teammates appreciate him sticking around. He was recently named the 2018 Atigun Award Engineer of the Year.
 
"If you want something done, you get Dave on the project and take it to the bank," explained Joel Lindsey, a Construction Manager with Hawk and former Alyeska employee who has worked with Heimke on TAPS for many years. "I hold him in a very high regard – his integrity and his ability to get things done."
 
Heimke deflected the attention, saying, "It's humbling. Good engineering is work that goes without notice and when that happens, I'm proud of it. … One of my favorite things about working here is that it’s one big team. So this award is everyone's."
 
A self-proclaimed "field guy by nature," Heimke has spent the majority of his adult life in far-off places – for work and wanderlust. Professionally, he found a fine fit on TAPS upgrading telecoms as a contractor in 1999. Over four years, he familiarized himself with the pump stations and pipeline people, and they enjoyed working with him.
 
"Dave's a hands-on guy," Lindsey said. "If you walked into a building and he was there, he isn’t an engineer who stands around. He's on the ground or on his back, bolting things together and just enjoying the heck out of it."
 
By 2010, Heimke was an Alyeska direct hire and has seemingly valued every day, every project and every challenge since.
 
"There are so many different engineering and operating constraints that make pipeline engineering so fascinating," he said. "This is the smartest place I've ever worked. That’s impressive and fun. And there's always something to learn here and hone your skills."
 
Those who work with him appreciate his willingness to create solutions with everyone in mind. Lindsey said, "He'll bring you to the table and ask what you need going into a project and accommodate it. Everything is as complete as it can be."
 
Heimke added, "Engaging with operators and technicians, keeping the focus on the field, that’s always a highlight for me. My favorite part is to go out in the beginning of a project, gather up the techs, and ask what their needs are, what would be easy to operate."
 
That's illustrated in Heimke's legacy of TAPS projects, especially the ongoing extensive, multifaceted, multiyear, multi-team system upgrades of all 62 remote gate valves on TAPS. Recently, Heimke also played a leadership role in the incredibly complex and wildly successful – and Atigun Award-winning – VMT Comm Building and Equipment Replacement project.
 
"On the XOCC cutover, the goal was nobody knows we're working on it," Heimke said. "We achieved that, it was done right the first time, and it didn't impact operations at all. We're really proud of that."
 
Heimke developed a curiosity for how things work early in life, a trait inherited from and encouraged by his father, a horologist (a person who makes clocks or watches). As a 10-year-old in Upper Michigan, he got his first shortwave radio. One year later, he started building a transistor radio.
 
"It was a no brainer I'd be in a technical field," he said.
 
Growing up, he'd heard of the big pipeline being built in Alaska and knew of people heading north to work on it. He saw TAPS for the first time on his way to a logging job in Galena in 1985. Following Galena and some work stints overseas, he returned to Alaska four years later and finished his engineering schooling at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
 
After a career of constant movement and even a reluctance to work in an office, he says he's happily settled into his new leadership position.
 
"This is the time for giving back, mentoring, and I'm doing it wholeheartedly," he said. "We want to set up our new and young engineers for success."
 
He added, "My title is acting Director of Engineering, but I'm still just an engineer."
 
That said, Heimke remains hungry to learn – on the job, from books, in life. He especially enjoyed last summer's 40th anniversary festivities and the opportunity to meet people who built TAPS and shared the same curiosity and pride that he does.
 
"I got to talk with some original design engineers and they said that working on the pipeline was the highlight of their career," he said. "It's the highlight of my career, too."
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