Robotic inspection tool redefines TAPS innovation
This is a tale of perfect timing and imperfect piping, insistent independence and trusted teamwork, hundreds of hurdles and millions in savings, a simple Russian robot and a seismic company culture shift.
This is the story of the Robotic Inline Inspection Tool Team, which received Alyeska's 2015 Atigun Award for Innovation. The seven team winners, and the dozens of individuals, teams and organizations that supported the effort, were all integral in a game-changing three-year journey that led to the world's first crawler pig integrity inspection of a liquid pipeline: TAPS.
In the summer of 2014, a 200-pound Russian-owned robotic crawler pig inspected around 850 feet of 36-inch buried TAPS piping at Pump Station 3, providing a level of clarity on its system integrity that was previously inaccessible. The success of that inspection resulted in reduced risk and significant cost savings for Alyeska and TAPS. It also inspired similar inspections – as well as similar cost savings and risk reduction – in 2015 and the years ahead.
"There were so many people and teams involved; we all did our jobs, and we did our jobs well," said Bhaskar Neogi, Alyeska Senior Director of Risk and Compliance. "But this was also about luck, perseverance, stubbornness not to give up, and a willingness not to worry about if we failed. This project really shifted the culture of how things have always been done on TAPS."
Almost immediately after the 2011 Pump Station 1 spill incident, Alyeska leaders had discussions about risk ranking of all TAPS pipe, the pipe's expensive replacement options, and new approaches and technology of pipe inspection. Neogi met with a vendor, Russia-based Diakont, at an Outside conference. A few months later, he tested the tool and liked what he saw. Although "simple" in his words, Neogi noted the robotic crawler's numerous sensors, its three points of contact that allowed for smooth travel around curves and bends, and the instant data it provided. The only problem: the machines had only inspected gas lines, never liquid pipelines.
Still, Neogi shared news of the tool with key TAPS staff and leadership. Almost everyone bought in, though many also were concerned about testing, and possibly using, new system integrity technology inside TAPS. There were many regulatory hurdles ahead from local, state and national agencies, as well as countless meetings and even public hearings. There was the process of identifying a testing area. And then there was TAPS history.
"TAPS is not a guinea pig," Neogi said. "TAPS is 100 percent assurance. You didn't try new things on TAPS. And there was no precedence for this. But the culture of our company had changed under President Tom Barrett. Tom backed this project. He said, 'What's the opportunity cost? If there's potential for a big benefit, be brave and try it.'"
Teams and the project charged ahead. The group identified Pump Station 10 for testing and the timing was perfect. The pump station was already mobilized for another project and its isolated pipes were clean and empty of crude. Its piping was also very similar to that at Pump Station 3. After owner approval and funding, and months of planning and preparation, the test was run.
"It went so well, it convinced everyone that we could take it to Pump Station 3 for an inspection," Neogi said.
The Pump Station 3 inspection was an even greater success. Its foundation was laid by exceptional teamwork, leadership and innovation. Alyeska's Dan Williamson led the project, which was assisted by Alyeska's Procurement, Quality Assurance, Design Engineering, Project Management, Project Engineering, Operations, System Integrity and Compliance teams. There was also wide-ranging preparation and execution work by staff from Alyeska, Houston Contracting Company and Diakont at the Galbraith Maintenance Base.
"It went really well – the pipe didn't need a single repair, there wasn't much corrosion," Neogi said. "We were also ahead of schedule and budget. ... And this probably saved us $72 million in pipe replacement that would have been done in the past. In the next few years, the savings will be even greater."
This year, the inspection tool will be used on pipe at Pump Stations 4 and 9. In 2016, it will travel to Pump Station 1 and Valdez.
"The application for this tool is now unlimited," Neogi said.
The Atigun Award recipients are: Pat McDevitt, Alyeska (retired); Bhaskar Neogi, Alyeska; Dave Roberts, Alyeska; Kris Gabrielson, Alyeska; Jim Hoppenworth, Alyeska; Steve Lacatena, Alyeska; and Dan Williamson, Alyeska.
Interns begin summer work around Alyeska, along TAPS
Twelve interns, all of them Alaskans, have joined Alyeska for the 2015 Summer Internship program. The interns were selected to help fulfill the company's overall workforce development needs in strategic focus areas such as engineering and process technology/instrumentation. The interns will be deployed in Anchorage, the Valdez Marine Terminal, and various pump stations along TAPS.
"We're incredibly fortunate to have the cream of the crop students interested in working at Alyeska," said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Director. "We recruit outstanding individuals because our internship program is essentially an extended interview to determine fit and if Alyeska is where they would like to start their professional careers."
This summer's interns are:
• Taryn Byrd of Anchorage, a process technology/instrumentation student at UAA and Kenai Peninsula College who will work in Pipeline Operations at Pump Station 9
• Sylvin Carter of North Pole, a process technology student at UAF who will work in Pipeline Operations at Pump Station 1
• Ehren Rickman of Soldotna, a process technology/instrumentation student at Kenai Peninsula College who will work in Pipeline Operations at Pump Station 1
• Shawn Eby of Anchorage, a civil engineering student at UAA who will work in Project Engineering in Anchorage
• Nathan Kingsland of Fairbanks, an electrical engineering student at UAF who will work in Project Engineering in Anchorage
• Valisa Hansen of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAA who will work in Projects in Anchorage
• Raymond Kangas of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAF who will work in System Integrity in Anchorage
• Cameron Toskey of Anchorage, a chemical engineering student at the University of Idaho who will work in System Integrity in Anchorage
• Jennifer Osborne of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAA who will work in Analytical Services in Valdez
• Blake Burley of North Pole, a mechanical engineering student at UAF who will work in Facility Engineering in Valdez
• Sam Guzauskas of Anchorage, a mechanical engineering student at UAA who will work in Facility Engineering in Valdez
• Greg Schmidt of Anchorage, an electrical engineering student at UAA who will work in Facility Engineering in Valdez
The summer internship period runs through the end of August and recruitment for the 2016 internship program begins September 1.
Environmental Performance Award for Alyeska
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has received a prestigious 2014 Environmental Performance Award from the American Petroleum Institute. The award was presented Tuesday, April 28 at API’s 66th annual pipeline conference in Savannah, Ga. Alyeska received the award in the Large Operator category and was recognized for its excellent environmental performance in 2014, a year in which the company had no spills.
"This performance is the result of unrelenting commitment to protect Alaska's environment and outstanding work by the whole TAPS team – employees and contractors," said Thomas Barrett, Alyeska President. "We know there is no easy day in our business. We strive to achieve this flawless level of performance every day."
The API's Environmental Performance Award is presented based on data submitted to the Pipeline Performance Tracking System, giving equal weight to the number of incidents per mile of operated pipeline and the volume released per barrel mile for 2014. This ensures that operators are addressing risk in both the frequency and consequences of releases.
To be eligible for the award, companies must have, during the award year, recorded no fatalities of employees, contractors or any member of the public as a result of a pipeline release; no hospitalization of any member of the public due to a pipeline release; and no shutdown of a community drinking water supply as a result of a release. The company must also have had no environmental enforcement action, settlement agreement, or Consent Decree by the U.S. Department of Justice during the award year.
In a very busy 2014, 187 million barrels of crude oil were moved on TAPS. There were no spills that had significant environmental impacts, financial implications, or compliance implications. Learn more about Alyeska’s Environmental program at www.alyeska-pipe.com/SafetyEnvironment/EnvironmentalProtection.
API is the only national trade association representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, which supports 9.8 million U.S. jobs and 8 percent of the U.S. economy. API’s more than 625 members include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms. They provide most of the nation’s energy and are backed by a growing grassroots movement of more than 30 million Americans. Learn more about API at www.api.org.
Learn more about the 2014 award winners at www.api.org/news-and-media/news/newsitems/2015/apr-2015/equistar-chemicals-lp-equistar-pipelines-wins-api-distinguished-safety-and-environmental-award.
Alyeska, Bauke honored for safety excellence
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was given a Governor's Safety Award of Excellence and Lee Bauke, longtime Alyeska Safety program member, received an Everett Award for her outstanding safety career at the recent Alaska Governor's Safety & Health Conference in Anchorage.
"This is exciting because these awards aren't just based on successful safety programs, but also on a company's culture of safety," said Brian Beauvais, Alyeska's Senior Health and Safety Manager, Risk and Compliance. "At Alyeska, we ensure that every level within the company is making safety a priority."
The Governor's Safety Award of Excellence honors an organization’s safety and health systems that protect their employees in the workplace and promote corporate citizenship. The TAPS workforce in 2014 capped a remarkable streak of 19.5 million hours without a serious workplace injury. And from 2012-2014, Alyeska employees work 4.78 million hours and had a .08 total recordable injuries and illnesses rate and no serious injuries.
"Sound programs are essential to strong safety performance," Beauvais said. "But ultimately, safety is about people, not just programs. At Alyeska and on TAPS, our people look out for one another and act with discipline, which ultimately keeps them safe and makes our safety programs successful."
Alyeska has received this award in the past, as well.
"The reason we keep winning it is because we keep progressing as a company and our numbers keep improving," Bauke said. "Alyeska stands out for having a really stellar safety system."
In earning the Everett Award, Bauke shines among her peers. The award recognizes individuals who dedicate their lives to the advancement of safety. Bauke is a certified safety professional and safety and environmental trainer who has worked in many safety positions at Alyeska during her 14 years here. Last year, she was appointed by former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to the Alaska Safety Advisory Council, which works to reduce accidental death and injury. She also serves as an adjunct professor for the University of Alaska in occupational health and safety/hazardous waste management.
"It feels awesome to receive this award, and it is critical that I work for a company that supports our safety work," Bauke said. "For me, safety is a passion and I try to be a resource in as many ways as possible."
Beauvais said that Bauke's "day-to-day actions in the workplace, out in the field and even in the classroom truly make her a safety professional of the year. Her passion and care for people being safe is visible in every action. It's never just about enforcing the law or rules with Lee – it's about people not getting hurt. She always ties her work back to the people on TAPS."
New Valdez surveying technology elevates accuracy, efficiency
Surveying is part of the daily routine at the always busy and diverse Valdez Marine Terminal. Permitting, utility locates, topographic surveys, outdoor mapping, excavations, as-builts, construction staking, right of way work, post-survey data downloads and more – Alyeska staff and TAPS contractors always have a range of tasks to complete and the accuracy and efficiency of those assignments are critical to maintaining the workflow.
Terminal surveyors recently received a significant boost of support for their work – and a significant signal boost, too. In November, a new Trimble NetR9 Global Navigation Satellite System was mounted on a pole atop the Valdez Terminal Office Building.
All involved with the upgrade – Valdez surveyors, Alyeska Supply Chain and System Integrity staff, and equipment and surveying contractor Merrick & Company – agree that the new equipment is a game-changer and a seismic upgrade over the area's previous analog GPS setup. It provides pinpoint accuracy over a larger working area. It spans the Terminal, the city of Valdez, Port Valdez, and as far north as Keystone Canyon on the Richardson Highway. The NetR9's digital receiver has 440 digital channels that allow around-the-clock communication with dozens of satellites which send signals back to Terminal surveyors to assist in their work.
"It's been a big eye-opener," said Ben Kramer, a Chief of Parties surveyor for Merrick who has worked at the VMT for four years. "In GPS terms, a handheld Garmin device that anyone can use will bring you within 30 feet. This equipment brings us within the head of a dime."
The equipment also allows for independence, flexibility and efficiency. Kramer said there is less equipment and shorter setup time involved with daily operations. One field surveyor can now perform certain jobs that once required crews of two or three and multiple stations.
"We want to give our crews the tools to be successful, and this equipment is smarter, faster, better and more cost-effective," said Jacques Cloutier, Alyeska System Integrity Program Support Engineer. "And it ensures our staff and contractors can do their best work efficiently."
Led by Contract Maintenance Coordinator Allan Laudert, Alyeska's VMT Maintenance team assisted Merrick staff with the installation, making sure the stout setup would withstand Valdez's occasionally dramatic weather conditions.
The equipment is a major technological advancement over the area's previous analog GPS equipment. It had to be installed across Port Valdez on Alyeska's SERVS office building because mountains and a microwave tower in the Terminal area interfered with the equipment's signals.
That equipment also had limited satellite connections and short windows in the workday in which surveyors could use it. Its accuracy wasn't always reliable and neither was its functionality. It suffered occasional shutdowns, forcing Terminal surveyors to drive around the port to reboot the machine.
"We used to spend an hour a day, every day, setting up base stations to do our work," said Kramer. "Now that's an hour of work and productivity. And the post-processing is huge. It used to take two or three hours to drive to SERVS and download all the data from our work. The new receiver downloads that data while we're in the Terminal doing other work."
Alyeska again named one of World's Most Ethical Companies
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has been identified as one of the World's Most Ethical (WME) Companies for the fourth year in a row. The Ethisphere® Institute announced its selection today at the 2015 WME Honoree dinner in New York.
"Earning this distinction for four consecutive years reflects very favorably on the character of our personnel," said Tom Barrett, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company President. "Demonstrating ethics and integrity is more than following rules or policies. It has become an integral part of the TAPS DNA and how we work and live every day."
Companies are evaluated in five key categories: ethics and compliance program, corporate citizenship and responsibility, culture of ethics, governance, and leadership, innovation and reputation. Alyeska demonstrated:
• Strong and consistent safety and environmental performance.
• Sustainability initiatives designed to extend the life of the pipeline and protect the environment.
• Established policies and procedures that foster ethical behavior.
• Corporate citizenship programs, including the annual United Way campaign, school partnerships and matching employee philanthropy contributions.
• Strong code of conduct and an excellent open work environment that encourages employees to raise concerns and identify company improvements.
• Direct lines of communication between the workforce and leadership.
"The World's Most Ethical Companies embrace the correlation between ethical business practice and improved company performance," said Ethisphere's Chief Executive Officer, Timothy Erblich. "Earning this recognition involves the collective action of a workforce from the top down. We congratulate everyone at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company for this extraordinary achievement."
The Ethisphere® Institute is a global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices that fuel corporate character, marketplace trust and business success. Ethisphere honors superior achievement through its World's Most Ethical Companies® recognition program. Ethisphere's selection criteria and the complete list of 2015 World's Most Ethical Companies can be found at http://ethisphere.com/worlds-most-ethical/wme-honorees/.
Vessel of Opportunity Program receives notable award
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's Vessel of Opportunity Program recently received a 2015 Alaska Ocean Leadership Award by the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC). Alyeska received the Stewardship & Sustainability Award, which honors an industry leader that demonstrates the highest commitment to sustainability of ocean resources. The award was presented to Alyeska leadership at the Alaska Marine Gala on February 21 in Anchorage.
The Vessel of Opportunity Program started in 1990 to ready citizens and fishing industry professionals around Prince William Sound to provide oil spill response support in the unlikely case of an actual incident. Each year, staff from Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) provides education and training to more than 1,500 crew members of approximately 450 vessels from six Prince William Sound ports (Valdez, Cordova, Whittier, Homer, Kodiak and Seward).
"It is phenomenal to be recognized for sustainability and stewardship by the Alaska SeaLife Center," said Andres Morales, Alyeska's SERVS Director. "Our mission is prevention, and if needed, to be ready to respond. The Vessel of Opportunity Program is truly emblematic of how fishermen and industry share a common interest and work together to protect Prince William Sound. This is a wonderful and deserved recognition of our joint work to be the best stewards of this tremendous resource we have."
The rigorous, multiday training strengthens the crews' skills in spill response, containment and recovery, which allows them to be safe while playing an integral role in Alyeska's response readiness and protecting Prince William Sound. The trainings take place in each of the six ports, spending time in the classroom and on the water. Crew members get hands-on experience in loading equipment, deploying boom, setting up skimmers and rehearsing other recovery tactics. A smaller segment of participants are trained in wildlife management and treatment. SERVS staff is assisted in the training by the U.S. Coast Guard, Prince William Sound Community College, and other entities.
The ASLC noted in its award announcement that, "The local knowledge and commitment of the Prince William Sound fishing communities is evident in this program’s ongoing success – ensuring that the fisheries and environment are protected and sustained for years to come." The award was sponsored by ASLC Awards Committee member Jason Brune.
Learn more about Alyeska's Vessel of Opportunity Program at www.alyeska-pipe.com/TAPS/SERVS/VesselOfOpportunity.
Telemedicine innovations connect TAPS workforce to enhanced care
A TAPS technician wakes up with an irritated eye. He visits the pump station's highly trained medic, who is also the site's security officer. The medic sees nothing abnormal. For many years, the medic would then call Alyeska’s Occupational Health Unit (OHU) team in Anchorage – Dr. Leo Morresey and Occupational Health Manager Tom Brady – for advice. Morresey and Brady would talk to the patient and medic over the phone, and possibly look at the patient's eye on a grainy live video feed or digital photo to try to diagnose the problem.
Questions often remained about the injury's origin and severity, as well as the next step – asking the patient to rest and see if the problem improves or worsens; driving the patient to the nearest urgent care facility, sometimes more than 100 miles away and on occasionally poor road conditions; or declaring an emergency and calling for a medevac to a faraway hospital, an expensive and possibly unnecessary resolution.
Today, these health care treatment unknowns and doubts are all but eliminated along TAPS. In December, Alyeska's OHU and Information Technology teams partnered with contractors Right! Systems and Wipro to install state-of-the-art telemedicine stations at Pump Stations 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and at the Valdez Marine Terminal. Since going live in early January, OHU staff in Anchorage now uses the telemedicine devices to communicate directly with sites, providing vastly enhanced care to patients and support to medics.
The first time Morresey and Brady used the telemedicine tools, they examined the red and irritated eye of an employee at Pump Station 1. Using a high definition (HD) camera attached to the new telemedicine system, and manipulated by the site's medic, Brady said they noticed "a speck of metal shaving on the eye's surface. It wouldn’t have been seen otherwise. We identified it and the medic swabbed it and flushed the eye to remove the irritating speck."
Alyeska's OHU team annually receives around 1,000 medical calls and makes 2,500 medical interactions with remote sites. Issues range from illnesses and rashes to lacerations and other injuries; most injuries involve eyes, hands and backs, and are soft tissue injuries like muscle strains and sprains that come with simple diagnoses. Brady said a small number of cases require more thorough examinations and complex care decisions.
The telemedicine equipment provides clarity. Each site's telemedicine suite includes monitors, powerful HD cameras and specialized tools like otoscopes for ear and nasal area examinations; electric stethoscopes that allow doctors to listen to hearts and lungs; heart tracing machines that show heartbeats; spirometry units that measure lung functions; and even an attachment for the camera so OHU team can ask patients to "say ahhh" for mouth and throat examinations.
The medic operates the equipment while Brady and Morresey use iPads to see and hear the patient and medic, as well as gather readings. The OHU team will soon have the same access at their desktops in their Anchorage office.
"We have always erred on the side of conservatism, but with this technology at our fingertips we can make decisions with more certainty," Brady explained. "When we look at an eye with these cameras, it's a real eye examination. We can see viral infections or foreign substances. We can see the natural hues of a patient's skin so we can visually check the progress of a patient's infection or rash. There is real value here in interfacing like this – it allows us to provide new levels of care to our workers and support to our medics."
Brady added, "And ultimately the patient gains further confidence in their care. They get to see, hear and communicate with a doctor."
Brady said that working closely with Alyeska's Cyber Security Team, the information sent from site to site is secure, HIPAA compliant for patient confidentiality, and has minimal impact on Alyeska's network system.
The OHU team sees its use of telemedicine expanding in the years ahead. They are exploring occupational health and prevention opportunities and plan on piloting tele-physicals at one remote site this year.
"We're essentially providing the same level of care and services they would receive if they came into a doctor's office," Brady said. "You just can't shake the doctor's hand."
Cold oil a hot topic during winter
As oil throughput declines, TAPS faces new and complicated challenges. One of the most complex is maintaining crude oil temperature in the pipeline at around 40 degrees during the winter. This provides a safe operating buffer above 31 degrees, at which point trace amounts of water in the oil can begin to freeze. Heat input along TAPS is critical during cold weather; the hotter the oil, the lesser the chance of ice formation during extreme cold weather events or unplanned pipeline shutdowns. Ice in the pipeline can pose risks to mainline check valves, instruments, mainline pumps and maintenance pigs.
Each winter between October and March, Alyeska's Operations Engineering and the Operations Control Center constantly analyze temperatures along the pipeline and look at weather forecasts to optimize heat input.
"The effort requires a mix of science and intuition to maintain the target temperatures for the pipeline system," explained Mike Malvick, Flow Assurance Advisor with the Flow Assurance Team. "And it's a system that has a lot of thermal mass and a transit time that exceeds two weeks."
TAPS oil temperature is a function of pipeline throughput and the time the oil spends in the pipeline. At its peak in 1988, TAPS throughput was more than 2 million barrels a day. At that rate, oil traveled from Pump Station 1 to Valdez in 4.5 days and was as hot as 120 degrees. Freezing water and wax accumulation weren't concerns.
Oil now leaves Pump Station 1 at approximately 110 degrees and experiences a significant drop in temperature almost immediately upon departing, then continues cooling as it travels to Valdez. Today's throughput is around 530,000 barrels a day, taking 18 days to travel to Valdez. On Monday, January 26, oil departed Pump Station 1 at 106 degrees with an ambient temperature of 17 below zero. By the time the oil traveled 100 miles south to Pump Station 3, the environment had drawn 51 degrees from its natural temperature. Near the Yukon River, temperatures were around 50 below zero. In Fairbanks, temperatures hovered around 40 below. Without heating assistance, the oil would eventually cool below 31 degrees before reaching Valdez.
During current normal winter operations, oil temperature is increased using mainline pumps and station recycle loops to add heat through friction at Pump Stations 3, 4, 7 and 9. At Pump Station 3, approximately 13 degrees of heat is added to the crude by running it through recycle loops at 25,000 barrels per hour. The same process is repeated at Pump Stations 4 and 9. The heat added at Pump Station 7 comes from a different source, one that involves recycling but through the use of a legacy mainline pump – one of the last on the line. On January 26, the ambient temperature at Pump 7 was 21 below zero, with crude arriving at 40 degrees and leaving at 53.
Heating with the existing equipment increases system-wide equipment maintenance costs and is especially expensive south of Atigun Pass. There, the heat is generated by burning turbine fuel trucked to Pump Station 7 and by consuming electricity from Golden Valley Electrical Association at Pump Station 9.
"Without considering literally dozens of data points and responding to weather or throughput changes several days into the future, it is easy to either put more heat into the system than necessary and incur unnecessary fuel and electricity expense," added Malvick, "or to not anticipate a cold snap, watch pipeline temperatures drop below targeted values, and then play catch-up with maximum heat input for several days or weeks."
Malvick and other TAPS staff are developing additional initiatives to warm the oil as it travels the line.
One heating solution is the new Remote Gate Valve 65 (RGV-65) point-source heating skid, located 17 pipeline miles north of Pump Station 7. The portable diesel-fired slipstream heating/reinjection skid was brought online January 7 with the potential to increase oil temperatures by 2 degrees.
"The skid is a relatively efficient system for adding heat and serving as a contingency to mitigate the risk of ice accumulation at Pump Station 7," said John Baldridge, Senior Director, Pipeline Operations.
RGV-65 will be used as weather dictates. Engineers will validate RGV-65's effectiveness and reliability this winter; if successful, Alyeska will consider setting up similar skids along the line.
2014: A year in review
2014 was an incredibly successful year in many ways for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and TAPS.
We moved 187.4 million barrels of oil, including TAPS’s 17 billionth barrel, and we did so safely and with integrity. TAPS staff worked 5.9 million hours in many capacities and extended a streak of more than 19.5 million hours without a serious injury. Alyeska was also honored by being named one of the world's most ethical companies for the third consecutive year. TAPS staff worked equally hard in our communities, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteering hundreds of hours to Alaska nonprofits.