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In the pipeline: state, producers look ahead to putting Alaskans into pipeline occupations.


With so many on board supporting Alaska's gas pipeline, including America's new president, the question is not whether but when it will be built.

According to an Anchorage Daily News article dated Feb. 11, President Barack Obama called the gas pipeline "promising" and agreed that it should be a topic of conversation when he visited the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, in mid-February. He went on to say he believed that, "as part of a comprehensive energy strategy ... (it) makes a lot of sense."

Currently, there are two organizations moving forward toward open season, a period during which gas producers and shippers identify each other, express their interest in the pipeline and reach agreement with regulators on costs, tariffs and other considerations. They are Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. and Denali--The Alaska Gas Pipeline. Denali is a consortium effort put together by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. and ConocoPhillips, two of the three major owners of the North Slope gas reserves.

The final pipeline route is still in flux, but it's generally agreed that it will run from the North Slope through Canada and into the Lower 48, perhaps ending at Chicago. All along the route, there will be construction camps, materials and workers involved in a wide variety of projects. The vast majority of those pipeline jobs are still in the hazy future, the time frame for their hire still undetermined.


Both TransCanada and Denali, however, have already begun to put some Alaskans to work.

Bud Fackrell, Denali's president, said the company had more than 30 Alaska-based companies working during 2008, and anticipates that number will grow during 2009 when preliminary engineering for the gas-treatment plant and the Alaska-to-Alberta mainline is conducted. Denali also anticipates continued fieldwork in Alaska and in Canada.

Tony Palmer, vice president of Maska Development for TransCanada, said in a late-January report to the Maska House of Representatives Resources Committee, that some Alaska contractors were already benefiting from pipeline work. Palmer said TransCanada's contractor for the current stage of the work is an Anchorage-based firm, and that TransCanada anticipates Alaska companies to be competitive on future work.

If TransCanada is the firm that builds the gas pipeline, Palmer said his company estimates they'll need to employ 6,000 to 8,000 people.


Brian Rae, an economist and occupational unit supervisor for the State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has met with producers, potential pipeline contractors, union officials and training providers to identify occupations that will be needed to build the line, and the department's research and analysis staff worked to estimate the numbers of Alaskans that might be available to fill those occupations.

Rae added that those findings were presented to the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) Training Steering Committee--composed of members from both private and public sectors, including producers, construction contractors, training and education representatives and state officials.

"We know there will be hundreds of occupations required to complete the gas line," Rae said. "We've focused our efforts on identifying the list of critical occupations and on trying to figure out where we might have shortages. Then, we're trying to fill those shortages with trained Alaskans--we need to make sure we have an educated, trained work force."

Rae said the task force has identified at least 113 occupations needed for construction. They have also identified how many Alaskans are trained and capable of filling those occupations.


"One issue we have," Rae added, "is that many of those currently trained and employed in construction are older and may have gone from the work force before the start of gas line construction."

According to the state's AGIA Training Strategic Plan, 35 percent of the state's trained carpenters were over the age of 45, and 20 percent were over 50 in 2006. The plan also identifies the number of carpenters employed in Alaska that were residents versus non-residents--of the 5,173 carpenters employed in 2006, 879 or 17 percent were non-residents.

"One of the biggest questions is going to be the time frame in which the pipeline will be built," Rae said. "If it's built in two years, we'll need significantly more workers in any craft than if it's built in four years. We'll have to import workers in certain occupations, but many of the jobs created can be filled by Alaskans."


A combination of efforts is laying the groundwork to train workers for those pipeline jobs. Apprenticeship programs--such as the Alaska Works Partnership (AWP)--combine trade unions, businesses and State and federal agencies to train future workers. AWP holds training events to hone skills needed for pipeline construction, from fabricating support members to welding and heavy equipment operation.

Denali--the Alaska Gas Pipeline is one of those organizations training or preparing to train workers it knows it will need.

"We're focused on conducting open season starting in 2010," said Dave MacDowell, vice president of external affairs for Denali. "Assuming everything goes perfectly, we anticipate gas flowing in 10 years. That's an ambitious schedule."

MacDowell divides their timeline into two pieces: the first five years in engineering and permitting, and the second five years in pre-construction and construction. To begin addressing work force-development requirements, Denali currently has set up two partnerships. The first, with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), is to assist with training archeological technicians, said Lisa Pekich, outreach lead for Denali.

"In order to ensure construction activities do not inadvertently disturb archeological sites along the route, we worked with our contractor Northern Land Use Research and UAF to design the requirements for a semester field course that produces archeological field staff. We know we'll need quite a bit of labor in the field," Pekich added, "so it makes sense to help with their training. UAF provides the training and Denali covers the cost for the field course."

A student coming from the course will be eligible to work on field crews as an entry-level technician looking for, identifying and gathering data under a trained archeologist.

"This is one area we've had to import some labor in the past," Pekich said. "We've had some wonderful local success stories. Last summer, we had access guides from local villages such as Tanacross accompany the field crews. A mother of one of the guides wrote to say the experience with the archeology crew sparked her daughter's interest in college and she is now enrolled in the archeology class at UAF."

Denali is also working with Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) to establish a survey technician apprenticeship program.

"It's an eight-week class this year and eight weeks next year in a two-year program," Pekich said. "An apprenticeship program is a combination of classroom and on-the-job training. TCC is administering the program, and Denali is funding the classroom training. We have a number of participating employers that have agreed to provide on-the-job training--we've had great response from companies. We're facing an aging work force in Alaska. I've heard that the average survey crew chief is 59, so there's a real need to train younger people."

Pekich added that the survey apprenticeship program is currently designed to select 10 Alaskans for the program, and that Denali and TCC will be recruiting from communities along the pipeline corridor.


"We use Alaskans and Alaska firms where we can," MacDowell said. "While the pipeline will be highly automated with relatively few operations jobs, a successful project will result in many long-term roles, including oil and gas exploration and production, support industry jobs, plus many more indirect and induced jobs. We want to make sure Alaskans are ready for those opportunities."

So with the state poised to see the largest private construction project in North American history, Alaskans can take advantage of training and apprenticeship programs to prepare themselves for the jobs that will come. In addition to the direct pre-construction and construction jobs, there will also be hundreds of collateral jobs--nurses, pilots, teachers and truck drivers.

"As someone once said, everyone will need a hamburger and a haircut," MacDowell said.

Those jobs will be spread across the route of the pipeline--approximately 2,000 miles from the North Slope to Alberta, Canada, and potentially another 1,500 miles to Chicago. The pipe will be buried for almost its entire length, according to MacDowell, and will require quite a lot of heavy equipment work. It will also be chilled in areas where it goes through permafrost and will operate at 2,500 pounds per square inch.

Early estimates for equipment that will be needed for construction included 250 large dozers, 450 large (594) sidebooms, 300 automatic welders and 250 backhoes, among other things.

Moving the materials and equipment to the Slope to build the treatment plant will challenge Alaska and American businesses. In the past, MacDowell said, the producers have conducted sealifts for modules weighing about 5,000 tons. This project may require modules weighing up to 9,000 tons.

"It's going to put a tremendous demand on equipment, on the Alaska labor force and the entire North American labor force," he said.
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Title Annotation:OIL & GAS
Comment:In the pipeline: state, producers look ahead to putting Alaskans into pipeline occupations.(OIL & GAS)
Author:West, Gail
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:May 1, 2009
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