PIPELINE MANAGERS LOSE JOBS|
Thursday, September 23, 1999
DAVID WHITNEY, Daily News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Two quality control managers overseeing
construction work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline have lost
their jobs under a campaign by Anchorage-based Alyeska Pipeline
Service Co. to rid the company of personnel problems that have
delayed safety repairs.
In addition, the manager of the trouble-plagued,
tanker-loading terminal at Valdez has been assigned to a new job.
Alyeska officials said that was a planned move and not a demotion.
Company president Bob Malone has warned Alyeska employees in
recent days that those who allow safety and construction problems
to go unrepaired will lose their jobs. Alyeska confirmed the job
moves on Wednesday, just as a new report revealed continued
resistance among some employees to address pipeline-system
Despite years of hearings and promises, the report concluded
the company's quality assurance system still fails to guarantee
that construction and repair work is done right. The report by
Little Harbor Consultants analyzed safety concerns raised by
company whistle-blowers in July. It was commissioned by Malone,
who was in Washington this week to distribute copies to
congressional overseers and federal regulators.
The pipeline carries about 1.1 million barrels of oil daily
from Alaska's North Slope. The most recent safety concerns have
been over whether the fire-suppression system at the tanker
terminal is corroded and not fully operable. Alyeska insists that
none of the problems by themselves are serious enough to warrant
shutdown of systems or to collectively undermine pipeline safety.
"The pipeline is safe," Malone said Wednesday.
The whistle-blowers, calling themselves the "Group of Six,"
say they are mostly mid-level Alyeska managers. Jim Whitaker, who
worked at the Valdez terminal, is the only one who has identified
himself. Chuck Hamel, a former Virginia oil broker and frequent
Alyeska critic, serves as the group's spokesman and conduit.
Particularly disappointing, the Little Harbor report said, is
that problems raised by the whistle-blowers had been brought to
the attention of the appropriate supervisors, who then did
Malone said earlier this week that he is on a tirade to weed
out employees who think they can ignore or subvert company
"I have said that if you cannot support these policies with
the company, the direction set by your president, then you are no
longer welcome in this company," he added Wednesday.
"I've got to be clear with my expectations because at this
point forward appropriate action is going to be taken, and I
don't want there to be any doubt in any mind about how I feel,"
Asked whether any employees had been fired, Malone replied:
"My answer would be that we've had changes in the organization,
but where I've drawn the line, not yet."
On Friday, however, Alyeska announced in a companywide e-mail
that the quality assurance and inspections programs were being
merged under a new chief. John Streeter, a Little Harbor
consultant trained in the nuclear power industry, will
temporarily hold the job.
That change ended the Fairbanks job of Ron Sacco, who had
headed quality assurance along the pipeline, and Larry Blachut,
the quality assurance program head at Alyeska's tanker loading
facility at Valdez.
Sacco could not be reached for comment. But Blachut said in a
telephone interview that he and Sacco were called to Anchorage on
Friday for separate meetings with Denis LeBlanc, an Alyeska vice
president. Both are now unemployed, Blachut said.
"They call it terminated," Blachut said . "They were fairly
generous on a severance package."
He said he did not know why he was replaced.
The Little Harbor report does not name individual quality
assurance managers but said the program had not been implemented
consistently and problems that should have made it up the chain
of command didn't.
Dan Hisey, senior vice president of the company's Valdez
business unit, confirmed late Wednesday in a telephone interview
that Sacco and Blachut had been "relieved of duty," but he said
they could accept other jobs with the company until January.
"The recognition here was that we had not moved the quality
program forward like we had wanted to, and those guys were in key
leadership positions," Hisey said.
On Monday, Valdez terminal manager John Baldridge was
reassigned to a position called "adviser to the terminal." He was
replaced by Greg Jones, who had been in charge of the company
unit that escorts tankers and responds to oil spills.
Hisey said Baldridge's move was not related to the quality
"John is now my operations adviser," Hisey said. "He works on
a lot of the technical stuff. It was not in any way a demotion
Hamel, the voice of the "Group of Six," said Wednesday that
the whistle-blowers reard Malone's actions a start, but that "he
is scratching the surface."
Hamel and Malone met for dinner Tuesday night on the
Alexandria, Va., waterfront. Hamel said the dinner was pleasant,
but added that he thinks the pipeline owners, not Malone, are the
problem. Alyeska operates the pipeline for seven oil companies
that own pieces of North Slope production.
Malone called the meeting with Hamel "cordial and courteous."
He said that while he regrets that employees have had to turn to
Hamel to get their concerns addressed, the Little Harbor report
proves that internal processes inside the company failed them.
"It's hard for me to say anything but to go to Chuck Hamel
because you were not able to get satisfaction within the
company," he said.
Malone has delivered his get-tough message to company
executives in Anchorage and employees in Fairbanks. Today
(Thursday) he may face his toughest audience, workers at the
Valdez terminal where the highest proportion of the problems have
Still, Malone said he has been inundated with e-mail from
employees applauding his efforts.
* Reporter David Whitney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anchorage Daily News-- The Anchorage Daily News Website
Alyeska-- Alyeska Pipeline's Website
Group Of Six-- "Group of Six" led by spokesperson Charles Hamel