Larre's stories of patrolling the pipeline pad include time trials on snow machines, bagging a blacktail deer, and discovering an oil spill in a creek.

Alyeska Marine Terminal under construction

Alyeska Marine Terminal under construction

 

When I first moved to Valdez in the early 1980s, I was roommates with a young woman who was the state health and safety inspector for our region of Alaska. One of her duties was to travel around to hotels, restaurants and lodges to inspect and certify their compliance with regulations. Another of her duties was to oversee safety drills over at the Alyeska Marine Terminal. 

One day she came home, fuming, after an oil spill simulation at the terminal. When there is a spill, large booms are deployed on the surface of the water to contain the spread of oil. The people assigned to deploy them went out for the drill, but they didn't actually put the booms in the water.

Their reason? It was a lot of work to get them pulled in and put away again. They knew how to do it, so didn't feel the need to practice and create all that extra work. 

This incident was reported in the Anchorage Daily News some time after the big oil spill from the Exxon Valdez. 

Aerial view of Valdez, Alaska, mid '70s.

Aerial view of Valdez, Alaska, mid '70s.

Pier at Alyeska Marine Terminal where tankers are loaded

Pier at Alyeska Marine Terminal where tankers are loaded

The massive engineering feats accomplished with the pipeline construction are amazing. But despite the multiple redundancies and safety features built into a project, stuff happens. Like the leak Larre found, caused by ice buildup on top of the tank, which just happened to fall in the spot where it would hit an external spigot used for taking test samples. How do you engineer for all the possibilities in something that's never been done before?

And then there's human nature. People making their own decisions about how to practice for emergencies. Or taking a nap on security patrol because they've been working a 24-hour shift. If a company shaves expenses in the human resources area, problems are bound to ensue. We are only human, after all.

 

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