Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Mary Davis
Over Two years ago Occidental Energy Transportation LLC, an arm of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, made the decision to organize an in-house carrier to transport Permian Basin crude oil on behalf of its marketing segment, Occidental Energy Marketing, to its pipeline system, Centurion Pipeline.
Today, that decision has resulted in a fleet of 17 tank trailers and a workforce of 26 drivers who haul approximately 13,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The carrier's safety record for that performance earned Occidental a 2007 National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) Grand Award in the NTTC Competitive Safety Contest. Occidental was honored in the less than three-million miles class with a zero frequency of reportable accidents.
Christopher Broussard, who oversees the carrier operations, also received an NTTC Grand Award as the safety official. Broussard, director of health and environmental safety and regulatory compliance, credits the company's commitment to safety as a driving factor in the unit's success.
“We just don't take any shortcuts where safety is concerned, and we train our drivers with that philosophy in mind,” he says. “In our more than two years of operation, we have had no at-fault accidents. Safety is our number one priority and everyone supports it.”
“Logic suggests that the present performance of a company is a good indicator of its potential future impact,” the corporation states on its Web site at oxy.com. “Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of employee safety. Employees are closest to a company's business activities and therefore, usually the first to experience any negative effects caused by such operations. If a company is not hurting its employees, it is also very likely not hurting its neighbors or the environment…We view safe workplaces…as the bricks and mortar of our company character.”
Occidental Petroleum Corporation is an international oil and gas exploration and production company with operations in the United States, Middle East/North Africa, and Latin America. One subsidiary, Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, is an oil and natural gas producer in Texas and California, with additional operations in Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Another subsidiary, Occidental Chemical Corporation, manufactures vinyls, specialty chemical products, chlorine, and caustic soda.
One of the company's latest acquisitions occurred at the end of 2007 when it purchased 50% of Plains Exploration and Production Company's working interests in properties in the Permian Basin, West Texas, and New Mexico. For the Occidental in-house carrier, the acquisition meant that transportation of crude oil now will extend as far west as oilfields in New Mexico. The carrier already was serving oilfields in Texas near Andrews, Haley, Seminole, Midkiff, and Midland where the fleet operation is based.
Driver training normally is conducted in Midland by Occidental personnel. Training includes company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, and hazardous materials and equipment handling. However, hauling crude oil requires its own special procedures that make it seem as if drivers are part-chemists and part-technology gurus, notes Paul Smith, West Texas operations manager.
Before product is loaded, drivers take samples of the crude and conduct quality assurance tests to evaluate critical items such as sulfur content, gravity, temperature, and basic sediment and water.
When the crude oil is determined to be appropriate for loading, the process is begun and is completed in about 30 minutes. Computerized equipment uses radar to measure the liquid level of the product and then converts the measurement into useable units and sends the information to a display. Three built-in alarm points are available to alert the operator of fill, high-high, or spill conditions.
Information gathered by the driver at the loading site is entered via a hand-held device using a ticketing system that is preprogrammed with lease and station details. A Bluetooth-enabled printer in the cab produces copies of the information to be provided to the lease operator and for Occidental records.
A similar procedure precedes unloading at the Occidental facility where crude is pumped into storage tanks, metered, and analyzed via a custody transfer unit. It is then pumped into the Centurion pipeline for further transportation as per shipper requirements.
“We require step-by-step procedures for loading and unloading,” says Smith. “That way we are less likely to encounter a problem.”
Because drivers are, at times, atop storage tanks in their loading procedures, they also receive extensive training for using ladders and catwalks. Broussard points out that drivers are encouraged to shut down any loading or unloading procedures where they feel a safety problem may occur with equipment or operations.
In addition to specific product handling, the training program includes an orientation period when emphasis is placed on hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, defensive driving, fatigue avoidance, emergency response, and hazardous materials security. (The carrier also participated in a Department of Homeland Security study the department sponsored on ways to improve hazmat security alerts.)
New hires study hazardous materials emergency response that includes use of respirator equipment that is installed in cabinets on tractors. They are trained on the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) monitoring equipment they are required to wear. The monitors produce a warning when the gas is detected.
Finally, new hires begin driving under the supervision of driver trainers and usually complete the sessions in one to two weeks. Driving requirements are different from a typical over-the-road operation, Smith points out. Drivers must negotiate cattle guards and gates onto rough off-highway roads that snake through miles of private ranches covered in sand and mesquite trees.
Broussard adds that driver applicants must be at least 23 years old and have two years experience driving tank transports. “They must have one year's experience hauling crude oil,” he adds.
After the experienced drivers join the workforce, they repeat the orientation program every two years in addition to other required retraining. Quarterly safety meetings are conducted and all drivers are required to attend.
With the in-cab computer system, handhelds and printers in place, the operation is virtually paper-free. Driver hours of service are tracked automatically from the time they log in. The system requires the drivers to log in at the beginning of each trip and complete the pretrip vehicle inspection. Should a driver fail to follow the procedure, an alert would sound in the cab when the vehicle moves one-tenth of a mile and an e-mail would be generated to Broussard. He also reviews driver records, including driving performance generated by the in-cab system data that reports such activities as speed and sudden stops and starts.
The safety program features driver rewards for meeting health, environmental, and safety goals. No incidents of any kind are permitted in order for drivers to receive the incentives, says Broussard. Drivers also are rewarded when their vehicles pass roadside inspections. The monetary rewards are issued quarterly to drivers who qualify. A Driver of the Year also is named. Drivers must qualify by having a pristine safety record and meeting the approval of other drivers and management.
As a service to drivers, a newsletter keeps them apprised of company actions, and picnics and other activities are conducted regularly.
“Most of our drivers are able to have a true home life with their schedules known a month in advance and weekend rotations,” says Broussard. A few drivers choose to work night shifts. However, since night shifts can sometimes cause additional stress in personal relationships, drivers are required to discuss the duty with their family before taking on the assignments.
Driver satisfaction also is reinforced by the new or recently-purchased equipment they operate. The fleet runs Kenworth tractors equipped with Cummins 450-horsepower engines and Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmissions, and Freightliner tractors with 450-horsepower Caterpillar or Mercedes engines and Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions.
A joint effort between Brenner Tank LLC and Walker Stainless Equipment Co LLC (sister companies) led to Walker building the newest DOT407 8,400-gallon aluminum baffled single-compartment, double-conical tank trailers. Tank hardware includes Betts internal valves. Roper hydraulic pumps with reversible action are mounted on the trailers. They are equipped with 70 psi safety bypass features to avoid hose damage.
For driver handling ease, hoses remain attached to the pump when the trailer is in transit so that drivers only have to attach one end during loading and unloading.
ProTech cabinets housing crude oil analysis equipment and other supplies are mounted on the trailers. Hannay reels are used with hoses for emergency response breathing equipment.
Trailers are specified with Hendrickson Intraax suspensions, MeritorWabco ABS, Consolidated Metco (ConMet) pre-set hubs, and Grote Industries lighting. Michelin supplies tires and Hendrickson provides automatic tire inflations systems.
Occidental is in the process of constructing a 7,000-square-foot maintenance facility that will provide preventive maintenance service for the fleet. Until the shop is completed, tractor and tank trailer service is outsourced. Some maintenance will continue to be outsourced after the shop is online. Meanwhile, Occidental has invested in high-security programs to protect the facilities where tractor/tank trailer units are parked when not in use.
Emphasizing good equipment performance is part of the safety program, says Broussard. Drivers are trained to complete a written vehicle inspection report that is part of the pre-trip and post-trip requirements. The report is used for evaluating equipment condition and/or identifying problems. The information is then forwarded to maintenance administrator, Johnny Bull, who determines the necessary follow up.
As for the future, Broussard looks for further growth for the in-house carrier as the Texas and New Mexico crude oil business grows. More drivers and tank trailers will be on tap to fill the demand. With a safety program well in hand and experienced drivers at the wheel, the in-house carrier is ready to accept the challenge.
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