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Vol. 22, No. 5 Week of January 29, 2017
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

A major transition

Alyeska moves ahead with switch over to Edison Chouest marine services


Petroleum News

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the operator of the trans-Alaska pipeline and the Valdez Marine Terminal, where North Slope oil is loaded onto tankers for shipment to market, is engaged in a switch of its marine services fleet to a new contractor. Having put the marine support contract out to bid, Alyeska announced in August 2016 that it had selected Edison Chouest Offshore to take over the support services that Crowley Marine Corp. has provided for several decades. The new contract goes into effect in July 2018.

During a board meeting of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council on Jan. 19, Mike Day, Alyeska marine services transition manager, described the marine transition project and its current status.

The marine services

The marine services, managed by Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, known as SERVS, provides tug assistance for tankers berthing at the marine terminal, as well as supporting SERVS’ oil spill prevention and contingency plans for the tanker operations. As part of the spill prevention program, tugs escort tankers through the Valdez Narrows at the entrance to Port Valdez, and across Prince William Sound between Port Valdez and the Gulf of Alaska.

Edison Chouest is going to bring in a fleet of new vessels and will replace Crowley’s existing tug fleet.

The huge exercise involved in the marine services transition includes the design and construction of the new vessels; sea trials; testing of the vessels under operational conditions; revisions to the oil spill response plans for the marine terminal and tanker operations; and the recruitment and training of personnel to operate the services.

New vessels

In all, Edison Chouest is building five new tugs for escorting oil tankers, four general purpose tugs and three new oil spill response barges, Day told the PWSRCAC board. The company is also buying two existing response barges already in use at Valdez, is bringing in one of its own utility tugs and will operate some other existing response support vessels under charter. According to information published by the PWSRCAC, the new response barges will be outfitted with new high-capacity oil skimmers, for recovering oil from the sea surface. The vessel construction program started in August 2016 and will continue to March 2018, with sea trials of the new tanker escort tugs starting in December 2017, Day said.

The new response barges will be purpose built for spill response use and will include features such as decks long enough for the inflation of oil containment boom, ramps to aid with boom deployment, and storage tanks designed to hold consistent, pre-approved quantities of recovered fluids, Day said.

The marine transition will not impact Alyeska’s program for the use of vessels of opportunity, including fishing vessels, during a Prince William Sound oil spill response, he also commented.

Edison Chouest is building its new vessels in four shipyards in Louisiana and Mississippi. The plan is to conduct initial testing of the vessels and crew training in the Gulf of Mexico, a region relatively close to the construction shipyards, should any problems with the vessels need to be fixed, Day explained. Further testing will take place in Puget Sound on the West Coast, another area where there is easy access to shipyards and where there is also the opportunity to use a tanker in conjunction with the testing. But, given size restriction on the type of tanker that can be used in Puget Sound, final testing will need to take place in Prince William Sound, Day said.

Given the scale and complexity of the marine transition project, Alyeska has established two teams for oversight of the program: an Alyeska transition team that will oversee the project, and a participant team of key stakeholders in the transition, including representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, PWSRCAC and tanker operators. The participant team reviews regular reports on the project status.


Day said that he anticipates that, in parallel with the shipbuilding program, at some time in the next few months Edison Chouest will actively begin its process to recruit the people it needs to operate the new marine services. Then SERVS will conduct mission-specific training, acquainting new personnel with the procedures involved in operations such as tanker escorting and with the specifics of oil spill response plans. Apparently, the handover from Crowley will involve a transition period during which both Crowley and Edison Chouest will operate vessels.

Alyeska itself will need to manage its internal change process, to incorporate Edison Chouest into day-to-day operations, Day commented. Alyeska has already embarked on the process of coordinating the two companies’ programs for issues such as environmental protection and safety management. For example, Edison Chouest will need to adapt to Alyeska’s employee concerns program, Day said.

Some Edison Chouest staff have already started attending fishing vessel training sessions and have attended a spill response exercise and some vessel deployments.

Changes to plans

Before new equipment can be incorporated into SERVS’ oil spill contingency arrangements, appropriate changes to the spill prevention and response contingency plans for the marine terminal and for the tanker operations will have to be approved by government regulators. SERVS has initiated the process of determining what needs to be drafted into the contingency plans and has supplied information about likely tanker plans amendments, Day said. The intent is to file the new plans in the April to July timeframe this year.

Essentially, after the marine transition, the response barge and tug fleet will revert to its 2007 configuration, with four open-water response barges and 10 tugs, Day said.

And, in preparation for the changes, SERVS is reviewing and updating its matrix of training classes.

One issue that is being addressed is disentangling the ownership status of the various existing items of oil spill response equipment, much of which has been deployed and interconnected over the years. Under the new contract with Edison Chouest, Alyeska will end up owning all of this equipment.

Monitoring what is happening

SERVS staff are also monitoring Edison Chouest’s shipbuilding program, visiting the shipyards and completing shipyard reviews, with an emphasis on accident prevention. SERVS response coordinators are reviewing the vessel layouts, looking for any potential problems relating to equipment storage.

Meanwhile, monitoring of SERVS existing performance involves keeping an eye on attrition rates for Crowley personnel, as the change out in marine services approaches. The decommissioning of the Crowley services is part of Alyeska’s transition plan, Day said.

And, overall, Alyeska’s commitment and obligation to protect the environment and culture of Prince William Sound through and beyond the marine transition drives the decisions that company makes in carrying out the transition project, Day commented.

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