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Vol. 12, No. 3 Week of January 21, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

KUPARUK ANNIVERSARY: A remarkable workforce

Dubuisson: workforce ‘unique’; Lineberger: they ‘just find ways to get things done’

Kristen Nelson

Petroleum News

Both Paul Dubuisson, manager of North Slope operations for ConocoPhillips Alaska, and Van Lineberger, ConocoPhillips’ Greater Kuparuk operations manager, use the word remarkable when talking about Kuparuk.

And both are talking about the remarkable people who have worked at the field over the last 25 years.

Dubuisson, who’s been at Kuparuk for two and a half years, says the people who work for the company at Kuparuk are what strikes him the most: “It’s a remarkable workforce.”

“I think it’s unique, in the places that we operate around the world, in terms of the talent and the experience and the camaraderie.”

“It’s a very demanding environment; it’s an unusual location.

“We have essentially a self-contained city up there. And the fact that it’s been there for 25 years is quite an accomplishment.”

Lineberger says “it’s been a pretty remarkable 25 years” at Kuparuk.

“It’s amazing that in the early days it was viewed as a marginal development. What I describe as the Kuparuk SPIRIT really kicked in, which has brought about innovations and applications of technology that have really brought us to the point where we’re 25 years old and we don’t think we’re half-way done.”

Lineberger said the cornerstone at Kuparuk is “the employees, both company and contract.” He said they “just find ways to get things done, find ways to make things better, find ways to really develop a strong future, both for themselves and as a place for their children to work.”

Georg Storaker, ConocoPhillips Alaska vice president of operations and development, agrees.

“There have been many milestones at Kuparuk over 25 years,” he said. “These included: producing more than 2 billion barrels; receiving the EPA Evergreen Award; the IOGCC Environmental Stewardship Award and the development of the West Sak.

“However, these milestones could only be achieved with the dedication and performance from the men and women of Kuparuk. I want to thank everyone who has been a part of Kuparuk’s history and I’m proud to be a part of such an outstanding team for the future,” Storaker said.

No staleness here

Dubuisson said he was also struck by the innovation.

When he first got to the field, he said he wondered if people who’d been working at any one location for 20-plus years might be stale.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. These folks are really energized at what they’re doing,” he said.

And “whether it’s taking these light oil facilities and trying to figure out how to make viscous oil with them, or whether it’s trying to do any of hundreds of other things a little bit differently and better, everybody up there is just energized in terms of their jobs.”

People have come to enjoy the lifestyle of one or two weeks on, one or two weeks off. “They work their one or two weeks, sometimes more, and they work very long hours. And they really enjoy their jobs — but then they like their off-time, too,” he said.

About 70 percent work two weeks on and two weeks off.

There are about 1,100 people working at Kuparuk, 350-400 of them company people. “About 200 on site” at one time, Dubuisson said, running the processing facilities, the seawater treatment plant, the wells and the “city.” Contractors include cooks, security, catering, equipment operators, technicians, engineers, designers, roustabouts, insulators and inspection crews. Dubuisson said there are currently about 110 contractors just working inspections.

Work year-round

Seasonal work includes ice roads and some inspection work in the winter when it’s acceptable to travel on the tundra. “But apart from that, if you’re connected to the road system it’s year-round. It’s just for shorter periods of time in the winter.”

But although the work is year-round, the extreme weather in the winter is a factor in outdoor work.

Dubuisson said that “depending on what the temperature is, we limit exposures.”

At a certain ambient temperature (minus 35 Fahrenheit) or wind chill (minus 50 F), “people may be limited to 30 minute outside work intervals” and special permits are required to operate heavy equipment.

In addition to activity restrictions based on the weather, “you monitor what people wear,” such as making sure people are wearing face masks.

Winter visibility is also a factor, with travel restrictions and convoy policies as visibility decreases, in three phases.

People aren’t allowed to stop on a road, so that eliminates roadside work.

“And as the visibility decreases you mandate that in phase 2 you have to have convoys and you restrict the work that’s done to essential work. And then phase 3 is essentially a whiteout condition and it’s only emergency travel and convoys have to be led by a heavy piece of equipment like a bulldozer,” he said.

Volunteers play a crucial role

Volunteers — both ConocoPhillips employees and contractors — keep Kuparuk’s emergency services running.

Lineberger said the emergency response organization has chiefs who oversee the fire brigade and the spill response team. Kuparuk is also affiliated with Alaska Clean Seas, and uses some of their technicians to help with Kuparuk preparedness, he said.

“The fire brigade is roughly 75 strong,” Lineberger said. That’s what it takes to field 25 people, “so by having 75 on the team we’re able to meet our minimums.”

Dedicated chiefs and assistant chiefs, along with a technician and an aide, support the volunteer organization.

Everybody else is a volunteer, he said. The spill response organization, less a couple of ACS employees, is also voluntary.

Supervisors on the slope work with employees to allow them to participate in training, and that “includes both company and contractor — no distinction there,” Lineberger said.

The bulk of the people, “when you’re talking about a response, even a drill, 5 percent are dedicated employees, the rest are all volunteers,” said Ken Donajkowski, ConocoPhillips Alaska’s vice president of health, safety and environment.

“We have volunteer response groups on the slope, so our fire response and medical response and our spill response are all staffed primarily by volunteers. These are people that are willing to put some extra effort and energy into being responders.

“And they do a great job,” Donajkowski said.

Staying fit and recreating

And what else do people do in their off-time at Kuparuk?

The field has exercise facilities so that people can stay fit in their off time, Lineberger said.

“There’s an archery club … a ham radio club … (and) volunteers arrange and hold worship services on the weekend.

“There’s no hunting, but people fish,” all catch and release, Lineberger said.

And there are fun runs every summer hosted by the different facilities.

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Quality, passion of Kuparuk people

• Vicky Hahn, now at Alpine, was at Kuparuk from 1989 to 2000, with an 11-month hiatus in town before she was able to swap jobs with a slope mom who wanted to be home with her son.

Hahn says the people were the most memorable thing.

And the project she’s most proud of was not “position related,” Hahn says, but part of her volunteer work at Kuparuk.

“I sat at the Cirque well blow-out in a Fire response vehicle for a week as a member of the Fire Brigade (it’s since grown up to be a department). Fortunately,” she related, “that all ended without need for our emergency assistance.”

• “The people at Kuparuk made going to work everyday fun,” said Joe Leone, who was vice president for the Greater Kuparuk Business Unit, 1998-2003, and is now vice president upstream technology for ConocoPhillips in Houston. “The hourly workforce is highly skilled and experienced, and the technical and support staffs are amongst the best in ConocoPhillips,” he said in an e-mail.

“There is a great deal of pride in being part of Kuparuk and in supporting the community.

“There is also a sense of togetherness that was great to be a part of,” Leone said.

• Jerry McGarry, who worked at Kuparuk with HSE from 2000-2006, and is now at the Kenai LNG plant, said what was most memorable about working at Kuparuk was “the relationships developed with people from all sorts of different backgrounds and experience.”

“They challenged and stretched me in many ways. I will never forget the times of seriousness as well as the times of laughter from the people that made my time away from my family enjoyable,” McGarry said.

• Alan Schuyler worked at Kuparuk from 1984 to 1996, and is now HSE manager at ConocoPhillips Long Beach JV.

“The quality, integrity and passion of the people who worked and lived at Kuparuk,” was most memorable, he said.

“I felt that the entire community became your extended family, particularly around the holidays. I remember it as a wonderful place to work. ...”

• Jim Short, who worked Kuparuk — and at Kuparuk — from 1980 to 1989, in permitting, environmental and safety, and is now at Alpine, said what is memorable to him about Kuparuk is “the professionalism and expertise of the workforce” and “the focus on safety, environmental protection and production goals.”

He also listed “their understanding and appreciation of their great responsibilities.” He said “the friendly atmosphere” was “like having several hundred of your best friends in one place.”

• Barbara Byrne VanderWende worked on summer studies at Kuparuk beginning in 1986, and was assigned to the field as senior environmental coordinator from 1990-97.

She is now an environmental consultant and lives in River Bend, Mont.

“After I retired, I worked two winters for Anadarko on an exploratory well south of DS 2K. We were based out of Kuparuk during the construction and mobilization phase. Independents do not have the infrastructure that the North Slope operators have and it is often more difficult to get your job done. I will always remember the willingness of my Kuparuk family to help me and the Anadarko team out when we hit a snag.”

And sometimes the help went to total strangers, such as the spring the Kuparuk River washed out earlier than expected, stranding a young couple and their 6-week old daughter on the Kuparuk side. He was a doctoral student collecting spring migration data on caribou. The young family couldn’t even drive into Kuparuk “as they only had enough gas to get them back to Deadhorse when the bridge was back in.”

VanderWende related that Moose Cunningham, the roads and pads supervisor, found them when he was doing a road inspection.

“We brought them to camp, arranged for showers and food. They were very nice and, of course, grateful. We had some baby formula shipped up from town for them. I’m sure they will always remember the friendly Kuparuk people.”