Working in the oil and gas industry in Alaska often means working in remote and inhospitable conditions, especially when the projects are located offshore. For the companies that provide installation, inspection, repair, and maintenance of marine infrastructure, a day's work can mean dealing with extreme tides, working by touch in silt-filled waters, and even avoiding some of the state's largest predators.
In order to do these jobs, crews must be highly trained, extremely skilled, and exceptionally safety-conscious. Whether the job requires constructing platforms, laying fiber optic cable, cleaning up after an oil spill, or performing underwater inspections, knowledge is key when it comes to navigating Alaskan waters.
From Blackwater to Bears
"The conditions in Cook Inlet are some of the most challenging diving conditions in the world," says Tom Ulrich, regional manager for Alaska operations for American Marine Corporation (AMC). "In addition to dealing with thirty-plus-foot tidal fluctuations and extreme currents, divers are only able to dive at slack tide, which gives them a very narrow operational window. Because there is very little visibility--they are diving in blackwater conditions--divers have to operate by feel; high intensity light just reflects off of the water. They have to be very competent at performing each task; otherwise, they'd never be able to finish their jobs in the time allowed."
A privately owned specialty marine contractor, AMC has been working in Alaska since 1993. The company provides marine construction, pipeline and platform installation and repair, dredging, marine salvage, underwater certified welding, underwater inspections and photography, and vessel support. AMC also provides shoreside construction and the deployment of fiber optic cables as well as emergency marine vessel repair.
While extremely cold water and air temperatures, along with rapidly changing weather conditions, can affect divers' progress, according to Ulrich, there are also challenges when supporting remote site operations on land. "Our employees operate in fairly close proximity to everything from bears to volcanos," he says. "In remote areas, there are wildlife challenges. We deal with black bears and grizzly bears in areas around Anchorage and polar bears on the North Slope. When you open a hole in the ice in winter, it attracts bears from miles around because they smell the open water and equate it with seals, their primary food source. And...