From Alyeska: Collaboration and dedication helps ease tough year

Brigham McCown

I began my first weeks with Alyeska in January energized about the year ahead. Having served in multiple positions at the U.S. Department of Transportation, including time at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), I was familiar with Alyeska, and its sterling reputation for safety and integrity. As I initially traveled around TAPS in our pre-COVID world, our employees’ commitment to their work was evident in every interaction. Since getting around has become far more difficult, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update about what I’ve experienced in the last several months with Alyeska, and the outlook for the rest of the year.

It will be no surprise that 2020 has been challenging on many fronts for Alyeska, our employees and Alaskans. At the forefront was Alyeska’s pandemic response, a team effort to keep our employees safe and protect communities where we live and work. We have continued the essential work of delivering Alaska North Slope crude to market, while maintaining a commitment to a healthy workplace and each other. Going forward, we are prioritizing work, asking each other what we must do to protect the system and the environment, and what can we do amidst pandemic precautions that may be in place for some time.

In April and May, we responded to a spill from a sump at the Valdez Marine Terminal. It was a sobering time and a serious incident. No matter how small, we never want to have a spill, and this event was made more complex and challenging by the pandemic. Throughout, I received good feedback about the response from community members and agency personnel, and I was pleased to hear about strong collaboration with the PWSRCAC, regulators, community and fishing vessels. I’d like to personally thank Donna Schantz for the opportunity to collaborate on how best to mobilize mammal and bird resources had that been needed. Our internal investigation concluded in July and the report shared with PWSRCAC staff. Further, we have continued to be transparent with staff by keeping them informed of Alyeska’s plans to address the factors that caused the spill.

Even as Alyeska addressed the pandemic and the prior incident at the VMT, we could not ignore the extraordinary oil price environment this spring that resulted in cuts to production by North Slope producers. Though prices have rebounded recently, Alyeska continues efforts to work more efficiently while keeping focus ever on the safety of our people and the environment and I can say our workforce is acutely aware of the critical role TAPS plays in Alaska’s present and future.

As we reflect on these challenges and how we can continue to support an already struggling economy, we must not make matters worse with a ballot initiative that targets the backbone of that economy. Simply put, Ballot Measure 1 would not be welcome news for TAPS or Alaska. For TAPS to remain successful, we need to keep oil moving through the line, and we have to acknowledge that declining production is contrary to TAPS’ long-term success. If passed, Ballot Measure 1 will negatively impact throughput and TAPS operations and will make the vital economic recovery more difficult. I say this because hitting any industry with a significant tax increase during a period of distress will have adverse consequences as all oil fields, including exciting new prospects in development, will be impacted. That impact will not be limited; it will negatively impact Alaska’s small business community that supports our operations.

The McDowell Group, a reputable economic research firm, calls Alaska’s oil and gas industry “the single most important economic engine in the state.” Now is the worst time to increase taxes by 150-300% on any business or industry, including the oil industry. We need a healthy and growing industry to fuel economic growth across the Alaska.

I recognize this is a concerning time for all of us, those who are part of or adjacent to the oil and gas industry, and beyond. As always, Alyeska continues to look for ways to work smarter and more efficiently and it will not be easy. I’ve been impressed by the grit and commitment our folks demonstrate; this is their home, too, and they show their care for it every day through their attention and focus in maintaining and operating TAPS. Part of that commitment includes the recent arrival of Tower-1 to Valdez. Tower-1 is a multi-purpose $1.7M fire apparatus truck equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that will significantly enhance response capabilities.

In closing please let me say that PWSRCAC is an important partner in a shared goal: protecting the environment through safe operations and diligent response prevention and preparedness. We will maintain our partnership with you, and we will always strive to strengthen that relationship. While we may not always agree on issues, we share that critical objective and will continue to work together to achieve it.

Column submitted by Alyeska Corporate Communications.

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