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‘Heat, Light, and Mobility for a Changing World’

Apr 25, 2019Oil & Gas

The central gas facility at Prudhoe Bay.

BP Alaska

In 2017, BP Alaska celebrated forty years of operations at Prudhoe Bay, which over the last forty-plus years has produced 13 billion barrels of oil.

BP Alaska sets sights on another 40 years in Prudhoe Bay

“We’re trying to go for forty more,” says BP Alaska President Janet Weiss. “We can’t get there by doing what we used to do.”

To that end, as of a late-February interview, BP Alaska had completed 40 percent of a 3D seismic program on the North Slope, “one of the neatest things that I’ve seen in a few years,” Weiss says. The seismic survey, which should be completed this month, encompasses 455 square miles, the largest of its kind performed by BP Alaska in Prudhoe Bay. “We’re doing that in a forty-two-year-old field, which is fantastic. We did a smaller shoot at the North End of Prudhoe a few years ago, and it was so valuable, so beneficial, that we wanted to do the entire field.”

Collecting this data allows BP Alaska to identify pockets of oil that were bypassed earlier “and help really sustain a longer-term drilling program.” The second part of that long-term equation is having the right equipment—operating at the right price—to get at the oil.

“I’m extremely excited about two rigs that are up and running at Prudhoe Bay; they’re running with our costs really reduced so that we can go after those smaller targets that are out there,” Weiss says.

Reducing the cost of running an oil rig is no small feat. In order to accomplish it, BP Alaska went through a multi-phase process, including identifying potential areas of cost savings, running those identified areas through an ideation process, and then, one-by-one, dismissing or adopting those ideas.

For example, the company looked at how to plan wells in a fraction of the time, as well as understanding the causes behind poor well outcomes to avoid those in the future.

“So there were a lot of little things that made up these big cost reductions,” Weiss says.

And BP Alaska’s focus on efficiency has been ongoing for years.

Janet Weiss, President, BP Alaska

BP Alaska

According to the company, from 2015 to 2017, “BP Alaska improved its operating efficiency from 80 percent to upwards of 85 percent. That represents an additional 10,000 to 15,000 barrels of oil flowing through the Alaska pipeline every day—the equivalent of adding a whole new field within Prudhoe Bay.”

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New tech directly tied to oil production and related to oilfield operations has also enabled BP Alaska to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

“When you think about the extensive infrastructure that we have on the North Slope and the cost to maintain and keep that up, we’ve got to really embrace technology, and I love the way our team has gone after embracing technology,” Weiss says. “That’s what’s really going to bring in forty more.”

The BP Alaska team has adopted drone technology, virtual reality technology, and sensors and wireless gauges to better understand its equipment and facilities.

“Our awesome, tech-savvy Alaskan employees have come together and put us in a different place digitally in understanding that state of our data and how to get information at the user’s fingertips in just a couple of clicks,” says Weiss.

And Weiss sees significant value in having Alaskans on the team beyond just their technical prowess. “What I find with Alaskans is an affinity for the state that runs deep, and so they really give that extra passion, that extra energy, that extra push because they care about the long-term for the state.” It’s why Alaska-hire is a huge priority for BP, and the majority of BP Alaska employees are Alaska residents.

In fact, BP Alaska does the bulk of its hiring through the University of Alaska system, has a partnership with APICC, and also has an eye on students who grow up in Alaska, attend college out of state, and then want to return.

Wherever they grew up, Weiss says BP Alaska is on the lookout for employees whose values align with the company’s. BP’s mission is to provide heat, light, and mobility to a changing world, which Weiss says translates in a practical sense into looking for employees who can embrace innovation and change and are action oriented.

At the same time, BP Alaska participates in a high-risk industry in one of the most challenging environments in the world, and so it’s vital that employees feel the weight of that responsibility and can follow set processes and procedures.

“So just think about that—people who can consistently follow processes while being innovative. So [our employees] have to understand what the boundaries are and when to innovate. But if we’re clear about that, we can really get people unleashed in the right places.”

BP Alaska tries to meet that high level of expectation with ongoing recognition. One way the company does this is through its Energize! program.

In the program, any employee can recognize any other for an exceptional idea or contribution, such as a new idea to improve safety. An employee writes up information about what a colleague did and then chooses a number of points to be awarded. Points can be redeemed immediately for an award of the recognized employee’s choosing or saved for a larger prize down the road. “What we’ve seen is a lot of peer-to-peer recognition, and just lots more recognition going on because everybody gets involved,” says Weiss.

BP Alaska team members working on the 455-square-mile 3D seismic survey in Prudhoe Bay.

BP Alaska team members working on the 455-square-mile 3D seismic survey in Prudhoe Bay.

BP Alaska

BP Alaska also supports its employees through training and ongoing education opportunities. For example, for employees in engineering or science-based roles, the company has a program called Challenge, which, in addition to introducing them to the company’s vision and mission, speeds up the employee’s professional development. “We like to try to get an equivalent five-year professional in three years with this program,” Weiss explains. “So we make sure they have hands-on experience, access to mentors, and big exposure to our global business and what’s going on.”

For its frontline technicians, BP Alaska has put a graduated leveling system in place where new employees are connected to mentors and assigned an area in which lead operators keep an eye out to ensure the employee is doing well and advancing in a meaningful way.

“There is great pride [at BP] in developing capability in others; that is something that we value highly,” she says. “You can see those that might have twenty to twenty-five years of experience wanting to invest in those that are just joining the company.”

That desire to help each other is an integral part of BP Alaska’s culture, and one the company plans to maintain in the midst of making some adjustments. “BP is a very polite culture, but we need to get scrappier as we go forward,” Weiss explains. “We need to get into a deeper, business-driven mindset, with safety as the core, the priority.”

It was not anticipated when first oil was produced in Prudhoe Bay that the field would be in operation forty years later, and BP Alaska has set the goal to still be working in Prudhoe Bay in another forty years. To meet that goal, Weiss expects it will take every employee to step up to meet that ambition. “What I’m trying to do here is really instill a stronger business-drive DNA—a stronger vibe of more transparent conversations… If people came here today they would first describe BP employees as very smart and very nice. And what we’re attempting to achieve is very smart, very nice, but more eye-of-the-tiger, more eye on the goal.”

As Weiss states, safety is at the core of all of BP Alaska’s operations, and so the company has also been utilizing a program called “How I Show Up” in recent years. That program is focused on strengthening the value of caring enough to speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. Weiss says, “So if you’re seeing somebody that might be putting themselves at risk, care enough to stop and intervene.”

As BP Alaska pushes itself forward as a corporation, it continues to invest in Alaska communities. Weiss reports that the company invests approximately $3 million every year in Alaska community programs and nonprofit organizations. BP Alaska employees support more than 800 education and community groups in addition to about 230 youth sports teams.

Weiss is passionate about education and loves the company’s Teachers of Excellence program, which “recognizes teachers from throughout Alaska for their dedication to teaching and for inspiring students.” She is also happy to report that in that last several years, BP Alaska awarded more than $3.5 million in various scholarships to approximately 850 graduating high school seniors from across the state.

To Weiss, BP Alaska’s investment in Prudhoe Bay is an investment in Alaska. “Prudhoe Bay really is the foundation for the energy renaissance that is going on on the North Slope; you have to have Prudhoe flowing through TAPS to make sure these other cool, new discoveries have that foundation to really build on.

“The world’s energy demand is increasing, and customer demand is to provide that in a cleaner way,” Weiss says. “Bringing in new technology in the right way can do both of those, and I like the way that BP is really embracing that dual challenge, and here in Alaska we have a big part to play in the global energy transition when we think about a better world for our kids and our kids’ kids.”

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