As extreme as it gets…
Setting a tank for a new customer — it’s all in a day’s work, right? Most of the time, perhaps, but it wasn’t your everyday task for Dennis R. and Frank C. of Suburban Propane’s office in Homer, AK. After Suburban Propane had won the bid to install a tank and vaporizer at Eni Petroleum’s new work camp on Alaska’s North Slope, the challenges they faced were, shall we say, formidable.
First of all, there was the distance. To get an idea of what it took to access the jobsite, imagine that you live in Columbia, South Carolina. Then imagine that the tank installation you’re going to perform is in the neighborhood of Augusta, Maine. That’s the distance Dennis and Frank had to travel — 1123 miles to be exact — just to get to the site, and most of that was on gravel roads. At best, that’s two twelve-hour days of non-stop driving.
Then consider the weather conditions, if you can imagine what it’s like to work outdoors when the wind chill is -53°F. Which is, after all, why a vaporizer was needed in the first place: propane produces less vapor when cold, and won’t vaporize at all at temperatures below -44°F. In the extreme cold of Alaska’s North Slope, vaporizers are used up to six months of the year.
“We had hoped to do the installation in August,” Dennis relates, “and not in the miserable cold of winter. But delays in preparing the site, and in transporting the tank and vaporizer, repeatedly pushed back the schedule.” The tank, which came from Mexico, and the vaporizer, which was assembled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were shipped by truck to Tacoma, Washington, where they were loaded on a barge and brought to Whittier, Alaska. From there they were supposed to be trucked north by way of Anchorage, but upon inspection it was considered too risky to try and fit the vaporizer unit through the 2.5- mile tunnel that connects Whittier to Anchorage. “It’s a very expensive piece of equipment,” Dennis notes, “and the clearances were too slim to take a chance.” So while the tank continued on its intended course, the vaporizer was put back on a barge and floated across Prince William Sound to Valdez, from where it began its northward trek.