Nichole Gentz-Wilkins / System Wide Materials Supervisor
For more than 20 years on TAPS, Nichole Gentz-Wilkins has thrived as a tireless and thoughtful teammate who loves putting the pieces and people together for successful projects. She’s eager and even-keeled, fearless when it comes to taking on challenges, always available to support others, and a transparent and encouraging supervisor to her always-busy system-wide maintenance materials team. Nichole was recently named Alyeska’s Atigun Awards Professional of the Year, an honor she not only deserves, but embodies. Meet Nichole in Alyeska’s virtual Atigun Awards video. #TAPSPride
Sailor Williams / Instrumentation Technician
On TAPS, our talented technicians are the ultimate behind-the-scenes players, their work critical to safe and reliable pipeline operations. Last year, Alyeska added a Technician of the Year honor to its annual Atigun Awards. There’s no hiding behind the scenes for this year’s recipient: Sailor Williams. He’s a super-skilled, well-liked, problem-solving instrumentation technician at Pump Station 1. He’s known for his passionate ownership of his work while also jumping at opportunities to help others, troubleshoot and fix problems, and learn new things. Meet Sailor in Alyeska’s virtual Atigun Awards video. #TAPSPride
Kristen Nelson / Oil Movements Representative
Kristen Nelson of Alyeska's Oil Measurements team recently made industry history when she was named chair of the American Petroleum Institute's Standards Writing Body Committee on Petroleum Measurement. She is the first woman chair of an API main committee in the organization's 100-plus-year legacy. Learn about Kristen, her opportunity to chair an API committee and how it applies to Alyeska and TAPS, her work on TAPS and love of science, and how she hopes to inspire future STEM professionals in this video.
Dave Roberts / Engineer
Long before Dave Roberts was modernizing TAPS, he was marveling at the iconic pipeline’s critical components. In the mid-80s, Dave’s dad was a mechanical engineer supplying Alyeska with mainline valves and Dave was a curious observer starting down his own engineering path.
“I was just a little kid in the shop watching them working on valves and valve actuators, the tubing,” said Dave. “I grew up in the oil patch, around the oil business.”
Over the past 20-plus years, Dave has grown up professionally around TAPS and Alyeska. He’s worked on some of the pipeline’s oldest infrastructure, including a few of those valves. Today, he crafts innovations that create a safer, smarter pipeline for the future.
With those deep industry roots and one of the organization’s most unique system views of TAPS, Dave is the 2020 Atigun Awards Engineer of the Year.
“It’s definitely appreciated to be recognized among the peer community as a leader, if you will, in this type of level of engagement with our work,” he said. “We are very energetic about our work at this company.”
High levels of enthusiasm, imagination and engineering savvy are prerequisites in his current role on the Appraise team, where conceptual engineers envision the future of TAPS.
“Our team works on fringe projects – technically challenging, global-type projects and longshot, game-changing types of studies,” he said. “You can’t have every group in the company chasing longshots. This is an operating company, designed around low risk. We identify the longshots and apply the rigor to them.”
Swinging for the fences creatively and conceptually comes with extreme results, from big-time successes that significantly impact safety, efficiency, operations and savings to investing years in projects that are suddenly scrapped when it’s clear they simply won’t work.
“That’s why you engineer – you don’t cross your fingers and hope,” he said. “You do the conceptional work, work the research side of the fence and the practical side, too.”
One project imagined operating TAPS as a cold flow pipeline, allowing oil to drop below water’s freezing point, and developing a series of cold startup approaches. Those concepts stopped cold after years of work. Other ideas have included creating pressure-washing pigs that use brakes to provide ability to jet oil at the pipe wall to remove wax. They proved to be too risky. The team also developed pig washing infrastructure, or “hog washes,” to make wax removal at pump stations safer. That longshot hit the jackpot.
“We have a pig washing system at Pump 8 that is game-changing in our management of wax,” he said. Installation of a similar system at Pump Station 3 is expected in the future.
“The people who designed this over 40 years ago did an incredible job – they didn’t have computers or models for everything,” he said. “They did it by hand and overdesigned things, that’s why everything’s so robust. We don’t take any of it for granted. Optimizing how the old system works, creating new improvements and implementing them, that’s been exciting. But we’ve also found holes, redesigned things, and made them worse.”
Even before landing this role, Dave was innovating on TAPS.
After returning to Alaska from college and a brief engineering stint on the East Coast, he was hired by VECO, where he worked on TAPS projects with Alyeska engineers. In 1996, VECO sent the junior engineer to Valdez for a three-month assignment. He stayed nine years, six of them as an Alyeska employee, rising to automation engineer at the Terminal and system administrator who updated its control system.
Dave said, “We took a power plant that had a half dozen outages a year to now having an outage every few years.”
Since, he’s played key roles in other seminal TAPS projects, mostly out of Anchorage. He was so heavily involved in the TAPS Strategic Reconfiguration (SR) project that Alyeska moved him and his family to Edmonton, Canada, to work alongside a contractor’s SR experts for two years. He claims he was Alyeska’s first internationally-based employee.
“It was an epic experience,” he said. “My kids went to school there, rode the subway. It was a radical lifestyle change from Valdez.”
Years later, after returning to Alaska and getting most of the pump stations through SR startups, he shifted to his present position. The fascinating work, along with opportunities to mentor up-and-coming engineers and explore the outdoors along the pipeline route, keep him excited about the future of TAPS and his career.
“When I hired on with VECO, I never could have guessed I would have worked with Alyeska for more than three years,” he said. “I always figured it would get boring – it’s just a pipe. How can there be that much interesting work in something running for so many years and it does just one thing? But there’s been challenge after challenge. That’s kept me engaged: the continual chase of new problems to solve.”
When there’s an issue to solve involving an aging valve, Dave knows who to call.
“Even as I’ve progressed in my career, my dad still has so much more experience,” he said. “Any time we have a valve problem, I just go to the source.”
Dave is now the source of inspiration that his dad continues to be for him, as there’s another future engineer in the family: “My son is studying engineering,” he said, “so we’ll keep passing the torch.”
Julia Redington / Site Engineering Manager
Julia Redington, longtime Alyeska employee and current Site Engineering Manager, is an avid photographer who often travels, and takes photos of, the TAPS route. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our workplace, she shared some of her favorite photos from over the years while telling stories of our pipeline and the landscapes it shares, our work and her fellow coworkers, Alyeska’s environmental stewardship, #TAPSPride, and more. Thanks Julia!
Alaska's pipeline people / Keeping oil moving
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
Rita Heidkamp / TAPS Shutdown Coordinator
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."