My Turn: Alyeska: We do not sanction falsification

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2006

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Joe LaRocca's My Turn column ("Alyeska Pipeline's corporate culture of falsification," April 11) about an event from 2003 in our analytical laboratory group and his extrapolation about Alyeska's current business culture warrants a response.

LaRocca bases his entire commentary on a public news story. The comments attributed to one of our former employees (a technician in our analytical laboratory in Valdez) were part of the sentencing process by the U.S. District Court of Alaska. Alyeska was not a party to the case and we were not invited to comment as a part of the sentencing process. If we had been asked we would have strongly disagreed with the former employee's disparaging comments about his former co-workers.

What is very disappointing to us is that what should have been a good story about our company and its employees taking the right actions has now been distorted into an attack on company management. The good story is that the company through dedicated and professional employees discovered a problem and reported it to management, who then notified the Environmental Protection Agency of the concern. After an extensive investigation with EPA the employee was terminated. Further, the EPA determined that our plant had not discharged any water in excess of its permits and that the permit had not been violated. The action disclosed to the media last week was between the EPA, the Alaska U.S. Attorney's Office and our former employee. We do not sanction falsification of records - period.

The former employee's fellow laboratory technicians brought concerns to laboratory management that their colleague appeared to be misapplying well-established laboratory procedures by manipulating quality control sample and standard results on samples analyzed from our ballast water processing plant. The inappropriate data management was subtle and it took the company a while to discover how it was conducted. Once we were confident that improper practices were likely, the employee was immediately removed from the laboratory and placed on paid administrative leave, so that a full investigation could be performed. At the same time, we notified EPA of our concern and asked EPA to participate in our detailed evaluation of the improper laboratory practices.

After completing the detailed evaluation, which confirmed our preliminary investigation and was confirmed by EPA, we found that the employee had violated our work procedures and our corporate code of conduct, which I am happy to share with anyone who is interested. The result of this was termination.

In the course of conducting our detailed evaluation we reprocessed the data in question using an expert independent consultant to ensure there were no violations of our National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. We validated this. In fact, Alaskans should know that our track record regarding permit compliance for the effluent discharged from our ballast water treatment facility has been excellent.

Through this process, we used the independent expert laboratory auditing consultant to help us determine how the technician had manipulated the data and took advantage of their expertise to improve upon our laboratory practices.

The people most harmed by LaRocca's misguided commentary are the hard working men and women in our laboratory group in Valdez. They have struggled with this issue since they brought it forward several years ago. They should be congratulated for doing the right thing - not having their practices disparaged inappropriately.

So, LaRocca's claim that we encourage data falsification is false. His claim that we violated our permit and tried to cover it up is false. (The EPA will verify this.)

We will leave his recollection of the issues from 1993 for the historians. We're not proud of that time and have spent time and energy working on improving our company.

We are not a perfect company and don't claim to be. We have, however, improved over the years as Alaskans have rightly come to expect. We run our business pursuing the values of safe operations, environmental stewardship, and regulatory compliance.

We have received the Large Operator Environmental Award from the American Petroleum Institute for the last three years for our environmental performance. We're very proud to have received this recognition by our peers in the industry for our efforts. Our reliability rate, the amount of time our system is available to transport oil, is among the best in the industry. We take our jobs and responsibilities seriously and will let Alaskans judge us on our performance.

• Mike Heatwole is a manager for Corporate Communications, an Alyeska Pipeline service company.

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