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Alyeska engineers step up in wake of big quake

When the big quake struck Nov. 30, most Alaskans suffered similar reactions – ranging from fear to anxiety to alarm for loved ones and property. 
 
Alyeska structural engineers Brian Johnson and Sterling Strait felt some of those things too; but the two men's thoughts also shifted quickly to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. 
 
Sterling, Alyeska's Seismic Program Coordinator accountable for responding to earthquakes impacting TAPS, immediately called the Operations Control Center: "All I could hear were alarms in the background," he said. Learning the epicenter was centered in Anchorage, he continued to coordinate with engineering and field crews throughout the day until TAPS restarted.  
 
While the pipeline passed unscathed by the 7.0 tremblor that rattled Alaskans mentally and shook structures and roads apart physically, that wasn't the end of work for Brian and Sterling. In the days following the quake, Alyeska freed up both engineers to assist the Alaska DOT inspecting and assessing state property for damages and usability. For their efforts in the aftermath of one of the area's largest quakes on record, the two men were formally recognized with Certificates of Appreciation from the State of Alaska Division of Facility Services. 
 
The appreciation was "a nice gesture," Brian said. "But it's not done with that in mind. It's a community need, and if that's your skill set, well, it's your community."
 
Added Sterling, "It's a rare role for engineers to be able to help like that."  
 
Sterling and Brian are relatively new to Alyeska, but both have many years logged as structural engineers in Alaska's oil and gas and construction industry. Brian was hired about six months back. following in the footsteps of his dad, an Alyeska retiree; his cousin works in HR. Sterling joined Alyeska a year and a half ago.
 
Sterling transitioned into the Seismic Program Coordinator role when the position opened. He knew as much about earthquakes as any good structural engineer in Alaska does. It's part of working here, he said. You need to know how to design for earthquakes. 
 
The day of the earthquake itself, both men were home – a flex day for Sterling, a sick day for Brian. When the shaking started, Brian instinctively grabbed his wife and newborn daughter and headed for what his engineer brain knew was the safest part of their Eagle River home, structurally. 
 
In Anchorage, relaxing on his couch, Sterling said he realized the potential enormity of the quake "about five seconds in, when the shaking didn't stop." 
 
After ensuring his wife and child's safety, Brian said, "My second thought was about what was going on with the mainline and where was the earthquake in relation to that." 
 
Because that's the thing seismically minded folks will explain, is it isn't so much the magnitude as the location of the quake – in this case, the proximity to TAPS. The Denali Fault quake in 2002 was a 7.9 and struck directly beneath the pipeline, causing minor damage, shutting down the line for 66 hours and 33 minutes. 
 
This one was much farther away, and after a precautionary shutdown and inspection, TAPS returned to operation that same day. 
 
That didn't mean the work was over for Brian and Sterling. 
 
Sterling is involved with both the Structural Engineers Association of Alaska and the Alaska Seismic Hazard Safety Commission. He's even coordinated training between the two organizations aimed at earthquake response. He reached out to colleagues and state officials, coordinated with his Alyeska supervisors, and within days of the quake, Sterling and Brian were on their way to survey state owned and leased infrastructure. 
 
Remember in the days following the quake, how buildings were labeled with green, yellow and red labels? Green meant facilities were OK. Yellow signaled damages, but in limited areas. Red condemned buildings as dangerous for potential collapse and continued occupancy. 
 
Working in teams, Sterling and Brian visited numerous facilities in the area, including storage warehouses and office buildings, assigning these colored labels. 
 
Sterling even got to inspect the Goose Creek Correctional Center, where cracks snaked through concrete walls, alarming the confined inmates. 
 
"It's a concrete building, so there were cracks everywhere," Sterling said. "We spent part of the time there doing structural engineering, and part of the time doing therapy and telling people, 'It will be OK.'"
 
Brian agreed. While he found himself in some spaces that, to him, were clearly safe and unscathed, folks needed to hear that – and found particular solace hearing it from a professional. 
 
"A lot of those folks, it meant a lot to them to see us walking around, looking at things closely," Brian said. "It meant a lot to hear a structural engineer say, 'There's no sign of fatigue or overstress, there's no sign of imminent collapse.'" 
 
Just as TAPS withstood the Nov. 30 event, Sterling and others were validated to see seismic retrofit work at Alyeska's Operations Control Center in Anchorage proved out, as the building weathered the quake. 
 
The earthquake also proved an opportunity for Sterling to run through all Alyeska's earthquake procedures and adjust where needed. 
 
One example: Alyeska is now looking at using the software that's used to call out employees to staff Incident Management Teams to perform welfare checks for large groups of employees during emergencies. Work is also continuing to launch a new earthquake management and monitoring system later this year. 

TAPS celebrates International Women's Day

Celebrating International Women's Day by spotlighting some of the hardworking and talented women on TAPS! #InternationalWomensDay#TAPSPride

Alyeska’s VanWingerden featured in API campaign

Operations Director Klint VanWingerden explains how our organization is optimizing operations and applying new technologies to current work as part of the American Petroleum Institute's (API) new State of American Energy 2019 campaign: We are America's Generation Energy. Klint is featured in a State of American Energy 2019 video, an annual report, a profile story and social media.

Klint said he recognizes the impact the oil industry has had on his family, education, career and even his outdoor hobbies outside of work like snow machine racing. This fall, he welcomed an API film crew to the OCC to see how the pipeline is monitored and brought the crew the track to his home in the Mat-Su Valley, where he talked about his work, family and fun.

This week, VanWingerden is in Washington D.C. to be a part of API's State of American Energy 2019 kickoff event, where they debut the new video and report.

Read Kint's profile and learn more about his work along TAPS, how pipeline work is being optimized and the training he's doing to train for the Iron Dog, click here.

For more information on API's 2019 campaign, visit their website here.

Yuletide on the Yukon: Santa visits Rampart

Christmas came early in Rampart this year when Santa and his elf arrived by way of Alyeska helicopter on Sunday, Dec. 16.
 
Rampart is a small community on the Yukon River, 85 miles northwest of Fairbanks, and strategically close to the Yukon Response Base. Approximately 14 residents play an integral role on the Village Response Team, there to support TAPS crews in the event of an emergency.
 
Tim Smith, Materials Coordinator, dressed as Santa and delivered presents to 23 kids with the help of Jeannette Stepovich, Planner/Scheduler, who was dressed as Santa's elf. Dozens of TAPS employees donated the gifts or money and others volunteered to shop and then wrap each gift.
 
"The generosity kept on flowing," said Jeannette. "The warehouse started raising money and taking donations and soon there was enough for each kid to have at least two gifts."
 
Ramey Brooks, PS6 P&CM, managed logistics on the ground, coordinating with the residents of Rampart and the folks at Maritime Helicopters for the holiday event. Ramey arrived with a helicopter laden with fresh fruit, snacks, juice and an assortment of Christmas treats baked by Patty Miller, one of the cooks at PS6.
 
"Jeannette and I handed out the gifts but you can't pull something like that off without the help of a lot of special volunteers and generous people," said Tim.

Ahtna, Alyeska renew Friendship Agreement

This week was a time for reflection and celebration of a special partnership as leaders from Ahtna, Inc. and Alyeska gathered to renew the longstanding Friendship Agreement between the two organizations. In addition to the signing, Ahtna board members and Alyeska leadership discussed the agreement, current matters, and upcoming projects. Alyeska President Tom Barrett and Ahtna, Inc. President Michelle Anderson completed the official signing of the agreement.
 
"Alyeska has a special and enduring relationship with Ahtna, and we appreciate that they share their traditional lands with us and bring innovative solutions from the exceptional employees along TAPS," said Barrett. "As our company brings innovation forward for the next 40 years, our relationship with Ahtna will not change, but only grow stronger in partnership." 
 
Ahtna and Alyeska have worked together since 1970, and continue to find ways to collaborate and develop opportunities for Ahtna shareholders along TAPS. Several Ahtna shareholders were recently recognized for their work on TAPS by the Atigun Award program; Athna workers received an Honorable Mention for Teamwork in their efforts with the G029 Workpad Mitigation at TAPS Milepost 652.5.

Advanced Fast Water Response Training/Exercise

Alyeska held an Advanced Fast Water Response Training/Exercise on June 25-29, along the Salcha and Tanana Rivers. The five-day Advanced Fast Water Course was a highly challenging training designed to focus on the most difficult portion of response in fast water: containment and control actions. Due to the length and intensity of the Advanced Fast Water Responder Course, it pushes responders to a higher level of skill development by fostering team concepts and leadership experience, using specific tactics and strategies within Alyeska’s Oil Spill Response Training Program.  
 
Participants came from TAPS pump/response stations, SERVS, Houston Contracting Company, Ahtna, Alaska Clean Seas (ACS), Rampart Village Responders, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from Alaska, Idaho and Oregon, and Clean Harbors OSRO of New Jersey. 
 
 
Training exercise instructors were: Earl Rose, James Pence, Ben Pennington, Steve Hood, Walt Henry and Gary Breen. 
 
Some of the facts of the training include: approximately 70 participants, 12 OSCP trailers, 15 vessels, a helicopter and a drone.

Drone use evolves on TAPS

Constant inspection and surveillance of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System infrastructure is necessary for flawless, safe operations. But investigating remote stretches and hard-to-reach areas of the 800-mile pipeline and its supporting facilities, sometimes in difficult conditions, can take countless labor hours, and incur high costs and even higher safety risks. 
 
In recent years, a group of visionary thinkers with leading-edge ideas at Alyeska, among TAPS contractors and beyond introduced an emerging technology that made the work safer, more efficient and more accurate: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. This modern revamp of age-old TAPS tasks earned the group this year’s Atigun Award for Innovation. A group of 45 people from three organizations shares the honor.
 
“This wasn’t an award that recognizes just a few people or one organization,” said Vernen Lee, Merrick Project Manager and Alyeska Survey Contractor. “If you look at the recipients, this was a TAPS-wide effort.”
 
Alyeska and TAPS contractors use drones to monitor remote streams and creeks, get closer looks at difficult and dangerous-to-access infrastructure and landscapes, and capture data at new levels of accuracy. What used to be cumbersome work, usually produced in helicopters by numerous surveillance crew members, is now done with relatively small and lightweight drones with a few operators standing safely on the ground.
 
In 2017, TAPS workers utilized a drone to diagnose a troublesome and mysterious problem around a fiery, 106 foot-tall PS1 flare tip. Instead of flying a crew in a helicopter around the flare or even shutting down the flare for closer inspection, teams used a high-quality camera mounted on a drone to get a clear and safe view that provided the perspective and data to make a replacement decision.
 
Drone surveillance and 3D mapping now provide the accurate measurements that have eliminated the risk of workers climbing onto riprap and gravel to obtain inventory data. Drone footage also provided the first as-built 3D drawing and terrain map of Gunnysack Creek in November 2017. The HD topographic mapping allowed engineers to analyze and implement a plan to further protect buried pipeline. 
 
“Safety is the most important benefit,” said Jacques Cloutier, Alyeska Civil Survey Support Engineer and a drone implementation team lead. “Less exposure to the elements can reduce potential for injury on difficult walking surfaces and dangerous heights, and even limit the amount of time workers have to spend outside in cold temperatures.” 
 
Lee added that drones help workers spend less time climbing ladders and scaffolding, and using cranes. Increased drone use also reduces helicopter flights, which drops operating costs and minimizes related safety risks.
 
***
 
The concept of drone use on TAPS started in 2015 as a group of employee hobbyists were developing their piloting and video skills. They formed an informal committee to examine potential benefits and worked through federal regulations about UAS use by following models used around Alaska by other companies, including BP on the North Slope.
 
Successes of drone use and their imaging systems were instant and groundbreaking: they provided new perspectives of the visible spectrum, allowing Alyeska to detect and address issues sooner than in the past. 
 
“The possibility of more accurate data collection will ultimately lead to more informed and better decision making along TAPS,” added Cloutier. 
 
That accuracy in surveying and site mapping, as well as successes like the flare tip diagnosis, have sparked requests from Alyeska departments on how drones can reduce risk and increase efficiency on a variety of other projects.
 
Cloutier said Alyeska is just scratching the surface of the potential work that drones can provide on TAPS. He has already used them to inspect bridge crossings for potential ground movement at the South Bank of the Yukon River during May 2018. Cloutier is confident they can provide near real-time ROW and infrastructure surveillance that can keep an eye on valves, pipes and leak detection, as well as support security. 
 
“Alyeska gave us the opportunity to perform and evaluate the data over time,” said Lee. 
 
Currently, drones must be flown within sight of the operators. But, UAS federal regulation may be changing in the near future that would make allowances for organizations, including TAPS. Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and Beyond Visual Line of Sight remotely piloted aerial system operations will expand the range of safer, more effective observation. And a new partnership with UAF could further increase the use of drones along TAPS and other industries.
 
Merrick’s drones already have a full schedule of work lined up this summer, including one notable project: working with Alyeska’s technical spill contingency teams during yearly containment drills. During a live drill, a drone will capture video of response effort teams so that footage can be used for post-drill review and areas for improvement.  
 
Lee echoed Cloutier’s confidence for drone use.
 
“People realize that this will be a game-changer in how Alyeska performs future work in the field,” Lee said. “After testing the concept on the flare tip and mapping several parts of TAPS, it is clear how reliable and trustworthy the technology is.”
 
***
 
The individuals being recognized with this Atigun Award are: Alyeska’s Alex Lai, Casey Ahkvaluk, Brittany Barnes, Daryl Beeter, Tom Betz, Nate Carson, Jacques Cloutier, Monte Geerdes, Verne Griffis, Mike Hale, Lorena Hegdal, Keith Hoffman, Phil Huelskoetter, Scott Iverslie, Lorraine Maroney, Janna Miller, Scout Monegan, Joseph Nash, Shaune O’Neil, David Ratky, Bob Stirling, Jeffrey Streit, Renier Swart, Rick Weinrick and Vol Williams; Merrick’s Doug Baum, Amber Castano, Travis Cronin, Joe Donohue, Andrew Garett, Allen Holt, William Hudson, Greg Johnson, Tim Koerber, Ben Kramer, Vernen Lee, Patrick Long, Diane Morelli, Shain Osgood, Geoffrey Preston, David Tassie, Sam Toms, Chris Velez and Scott Wood; and CASI’s Kent Freem

800 reach the finish line at Pump 1's Fun Run

Runners and walkers joined together at Pump Station 1 July 17 and 31 to participate in the 23rd annual 5K Fun Run along the pipeline.
 
North Slope workers don't often get the chance to come together for outdoor activity or take in all the views of the pipeline and the tundra that runs alongside the ROW. Active-wear is not necessary to participate in the race, and some prefer to keep their steel-toes and FR gear on during their walk or jog.
 
With annual events come annual traditions. As always, T-shirts with an artistic view of TAPS Milepost 0 were given to participants. Pink the Pig made another appearance as the run's mascot and brought a new friend, the "$mart Pig," to join in this year's festivities. Light snacks were shared at the finish line, along with a strong sense of TAPS pride and event volunteer support.
 
 
New activities were introduced, as well. To further promote healthy choices and test everyone's knowledge of TAPS, trivia questions were posted along the route for athletes to contemplate until answers were revealed at the finish line.
 
"For the crew at PS 1, it isn't about the T-shirt but around showing pride in TAPS," said Hal Eppley, P/L Field Material Coordinator and long-time event coordinator. "Workers on the North Slope look forward to this fun run each year, and continue to support the event."
   

Fresh perspectives: 2018 summer interns tour TAPS

Ten Alyeska summer interns recently joined a group of new hires and long-time employees who have never toured TAPS for a five-day excursion along the route from Fairbanks to Valdez, which included visiting pipeline facilities and learning more about TAPS operations. 
 
The 30 participants piled into a Coach Tour bus with trip leaders Bob Stech, Design Engineering Supervisor, and Ed Davis, PS 04 Engineer, and packed in a full itinerary with stops at:
 
• Fairbanks to tour the DIF and warehouses, with an explanation of how hot-tapping occurs
• North Pole Metering and Nordale Yard
• PS 08 to view the Point Source Heat System
• Tanana River crossing
• PS 09
• Remote Gate Valve (RGV) 108
• PS 10 and the Y045 efforts
• Denali Fault
• Glennallen Response Base and MLR unit
• PS 12
• VMT Crude Oil Path and learn about the Z716 progress
• VMT Power Vapor
• VMT Ballast Water Treatment 
 
Bob Stech volunteered to lead a pipeline tour for the first time last year, which had just five participants. This year’s larger group didn’t slow down the trip plans, though. He encourages Alyeska employees to take any chance they can to get out and see what’s going on along the line. 
 
“You get a better understanding about what’s in the field,” Stech said. “The pipeline tour can give new hires a sense of the size, capacity or weight of equipment or part of a project they are working on. Not only does it get our urban and field employees face time together, but it helps employees understand how remote and unique our operations are.” 
 
Here are some of the comments and photos from a few of the 2018 summer interns about their pipeline tour experience. 
 
“The pipeline tour not only gave me the opportunity to see oil movement, facilities and operations, but it gave me the chance to meet amazing people along the way,” said Keelah Fisher, Mechanical Engineer Intern.  “It truly is the people that make the company. I also got to see projects that I’ve been working on this summer, which was extremely exciting!”
 
“I really enjoyed the trip,” said Collette Kawagley, Mechanical Engineer Intern. “Being able to learn so much and see actual systems in person is very helpful.” 
 
“This trip was phenomenal, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better guide than Bob Stech,” said Robert Clark, Mechanical Engineering Intern. “He gave us a lot to absorb and think about during the trip. Ed Davis was also added countless stories about each site of the tour. The trip was really motivating for me and gave insight to the pride people have for TAPS. I am grateful to be a part of Alyeska and have the opportunity to work here. Thank you to everybody that helped make this trip possible and showed us around.” 
 
“It was truly amazing to go out and learn from the most experienced and passionate individuals who work directly on the pipeline,” said Emma Chastain, Accounting Intern. “The amount of knowledge and stories that so many shared made me proud to be a part of an innovative company that works to the highest standards every day.”
 
“The pipeline has so many various aspects to it, and you can always learn something new every day,” said Lowen Guzman, Mechanical Engineering Intern.
 
"The pipeline tour with Bob Stech was a phenomenal learning experience for everyone including myself on the tour,” said Curtis Richardson, Construction Management Intern.  “I think employees in any department would benefit from a tour like this. Bob did a real service for Alyeska, and I know he put in a lot of work to coordinate the week. So, another thanks to Bob and all the other long-time Alyeska employees who cared about educating everyone on the tour through their stories about their time on TAPS.”
 
“It was a great trip, I learned a lot that I wouldn’t have just sitting behind a desk,” said Kyle Sun, Mechanical Engineering Intern. “The trip allowed me to connect my work with the pipeline itself, and gave me the chance to meet the people who have boots on the ground and implement any decisions made in the office. I also learned about the importance of consulting and communicating with people in the field to gain a deeper insight." 

Alyeska's Otter Rehabilitation Facility earns environmental honor

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association recently recognized Alyeska's Otter Rehabilitation Facility, its recent upgrade and demonstration, and the wide-ranging teams that completed the effort, with the AOGA Industry Award for Project of the Year for Environmental Stewardship and Innovation.
 
Based at the Valdez Marine Terminal (VMT), the Otter Rehabilitation Module, also known as the "Otter Hospital," is a rare facility designed to treat and rehabilitate otters affected by an oil spill. It was originally designed and built in the mid-1990s. In 2017, Alyeska upgraded and fully demonstrated the facility to confirm optimum readiness and fit-for-purpose for deployment during a spill response, which led to the award recognition.
 
"It feels awesome," said Stacia Miller, Alyeska's Wildlife Response Coordinator who has overseen the Otter Hospital since 2013. "All the people and teams connected with it are so dedicated. And I think it's exceptional that our company cares enough to have something like this."
 
The facility is innovative by design as a contingency marine mammal hospital and unique in its scale. It has cleaning and holding rooms, a nursery, a clinic and a necropsy unit, and provides necessary space and equipment for receiving, weighing, sedating, cleaning and drying otters. Up to 20 otters can be treated within the hospital per day with up to 100 recovering in the holding unit. The in-water pre-release holding facilities can accommodate up to 250 otters.
 
That may sound exciting, but in reality the Otter Hospital is a modular, conex-based contingency facility that is not in continuous use, frequently operated or regularly deployed. The facility consists of 16 conex units and associated supports, loading platforms, walkways and mechanical and electrical hookups.
 
In the event of an oil spill, the units, which are housed at the Valdez Marine Terminal Emergency Response Base, must be fully operational within 72 hours of notification. For compliance purposes, Alyeska must occasionally demonstrate that.
 
Fortunately, the facility has not been needed for a spill. But after 20 years of sporadic use, compliance set-ups and teardowns, and long stretches of storage, the facility itself needed a rescue – or as SERVS determined, a major remodel.
 
After months of planning and ordering needed equipment, the remodel was underway in 2016. The work included a full remodel of core hardware and finishes such as cabinetry, and interior and exterior paint. All plumbing and electrical systems were tested and repaired or replaced as needed. Non-skid flooring surfaces were also added. Desks, appliances, scales, medical supplies, and a decontamination station were also added.
 
Miller said that these improvements will extend the facility's useful life and optimize function, and "when the update was completed, the facility looked too good to not show others."
 
So in 2017, the units were set-up in the VMT’s Emergency Response Building (ERB) as part of an annual exercise field deployment. Although the exercise was the driver for the setup, there were other objectives, Miller noted. It would serve as training for employees and interested external parties, a chance to update and create new training materials, and to examine if past lessons learned and known improvements were implemented during deployment.
 
The deployment kicked off on February 23, 2017. Houston's Baseline crew installed the units and walkways; Alyeska's Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical Maintenance teams installed the electrical and plumbing systems. It was quickly determined that units could easily be set-up within the 72-hour compliance mandated timeline. 
 
SEED Media, a Valdez-based contractor that often assists with SERVS training videos, created two videos – one focused on the mobilization and set-up of the facility; the other video shared what would happen once the facility was in use. 
 
The SERVS contingency response planning team organized an exercise. Leaders and innovators in the field of marine mammal rehabilitation from International Wildlife Research (IWR) and Alaska Sea Life Center led the treatment demonstration, walking all participants through the steps of triage, cleaning and caring for sea otters. Numerous agencies participated, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Coast Guard and Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council. Alyeska staff from SERVS, Environment, Safety, and Operations also participated.
 
Miller said that, "observers were impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated by IWR and Alyeska's well-maintained facility. Very few lessons learned were gleaned from debrief, which shows the intense level of thought, preparation and hard work that were put towards creating a functional otter hospital. In fact, the hospital was so well received that it resulted in Alyeska receiving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Regional Director's Excellence Award as Outstanding Partner."
 
In a nomination for the AOGA award, Jan Shifflett, Alyeska's Sr. Environmental Manager, wrote, "Comprehensive success in prevention, preparedness, and response is not a singular effort or action by Alyeska, agencies, or other stakeholders. Collaboration and partnership with all involved entities generates optimal and mutually beneficial outcomes. Achievement is collective and interconnected. The Otter Rehabilitation Module upgrade and demonstration provides an example of agencies, marine mammal experts, and industry working together to ensure environmental stewardship through best practices, collaboration, and innovation." 
 
The AOGA Industry Award for Project of the Year for Environmental Stewardship and Innovation annually honors an Alaska oil and gas industry project that demonstrates superior environmental stewardship in its area of design, construction or operation and/or an innovative approach that sets a new standard for industry design, construction or operation in Alaska.
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