Oil & Gas
What Goes Down Must Come Up
Colville fuels North Slope producers
By Scott Rhode

rudhoe Bay petroleum flows both ways. The Trans Alaska Pipeline System, of course, moves almost half a million barrels of crude oil per day from the North Slope to Valdez. The machines that make that happen, though, burn refined product: heating fuel, unleaded gasoline, #1 diesel, ultra-low sulfur diesel, aviation gasoline, and jet fuel.

The “pipeline” that carries those products northward has wheels. A fleet of trucks transports fuel up the haul road to Deadhorse, thanks to the hard work of Colville.

Each year, Colville transports a volume equivalent to about one day’s worth of southbound crude oil. From 2019 through 2022, the support services company carried 10,000 highway loads with no accidents or spills. In that time, Colville moved more than 100 million gallons while driving 6.4 million miles.

“That’s our transportation team based out of Fairbanks, and that’s traveling the Dalton Highway, which is notorious,” says Roger Bock, Colville’s senior director of operations. “That’s a really hard-to-navigate road system with lots of challenges, passes, blizzards, and muddy conditions. So to safely transit that highway with all those gallons, that’s a huge feat for our transportation division.”

Colville’s base in Deadhorse lies nearly 500 miles away from Fairbanks, and the last 240 miles north of the Coldfoot truck stop have no roadside services whatsoever. That overland distance is nearly the same as the altitude of the International Space Station.

“It’s super remote. It’s pretty much just an oil field town,” says Colville President Jason Reeves. Everything the town needs must be transported somehow, and Colville is the somehow.

Starting in 2024, Colville will be responsible for delivering one more thing to the North Slope. As a consequence of a 2010 rule by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diesel engines must use selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Engines equipped for SCR have an additional filling port where they are topped off with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). As the chief supplier of fuels, Colville is also making DEF available at Prudhoe Bay.

Haul in a Day’s Work
Fuel transport is a natural evolution of Colville’s original form in the ‘50s as Arctic Tern Fish & Freight Company, established by pioneering bush pilot Bud Helmericks. With his knowledge of the landscape, Helmericks helped guide oil exploration in the ‘60s.

Industry support continues to the present day through Colville and its sister companies Colville Transport and Brooks Range Supply.

The company maintains an aviation branch at its 3-acre Fixed Base Operation at the Deadhorse Airport. Colville’s vertically integrated supply system also includes a 10-acre tank farm and truck loading revetment, 3.9-million-gallon fuel storage, and a maintenance shop. The company even prepares paperwork to collect the 8-cent-per-gallon state motor fuel tax.

A natural extension of Colville’s long-haul transport capability is its solid waste management service. The company collects trash and takes it to the North Slope Borough’s Oxbow Landfill on the shore of the bay.

Just as Colville tidies up the town via garbage pickup, the company is taking on the job of cleaning the air.

Scrubbing Exhaust
Engines that heat, power, and drive machines at Prudhoe Bay breathe air that is 78 percent nitrogen. Chemical reactions combine a small fraction of nitrogen with oxygen, forming nitric oxide, which can deplete ozone in the upper atmosphere, and nitrogen dioxide, which is associated with respiratory harm and acid rain.

To regulate nitrogen oxide emissions, the EPA mandated strict standards for Tier 4 diesel motors, those with greater than 24 horsepower used off highways. Tier 4 requirements were phased in starting in 2008 and were fully implemented in 2015, reducing emissions by 99 percent compared to 1996 levels.

SCR technology has been around for about fifty years, first used by coal-fired power plants. Exhaust gas is mixed in a chamber with a spray of DEF, and metallic catalysts convert nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water. The process is not unlike catalytic converters found in gasoline-powered vehicles, with the added component of the exhaust fluid.

A typical tankful of DEF is refilled as often as an oil change, and the fluid sells for about $8 per gallon.

“All the companies are wanting to start using those cleaner-burning motors, so there’s a need up there,” says Bock. “We took the opportunity, instead of having to bulk it up by totes, let’s just make it in Prudhoe.”

Thus, rather than truck DEF all the way to Prudhoe Bay, Colville is transporting the ingredients and mixing them on site.

Mixing Fluid
Colville’s DEF plant is scheduled to open at the Prudhoe Bay main pad by January 1, 2024. A company called KleerBlue Solutions, which specializes in storage and dispensing systems, is supplying the equipment.

The process involves combining deionized water with a very pure form of urea, a common industrial chemical most often used as agricultural fertilizer.

“The plant will have its own deionizing system, so we’ll just source locally produced water from the borough and deionize it,” Bock explains. That minimizes the amount of material that must be supplied from off the Slope. In this case, urea comes in the form of dried prill, or tiny pellets that are also used as ice melt.

Thanks to new activity on the North Slope, Colville is adding breakfast and dinner service at Brooks Camp, plus an area where Slope workers can pick up lunches to go.
Reeves explains, “Instead of taking the bulk pre-finished stuff in totes, we’ll just take the [prill] product, which will be easier to haul up there and make it on the Slope versus hauling [DEF] up. There won’t have to be as many trucks.”

Inside the catalytic reducer, DEF decomposes into ammonia and carbon dioxide; it’s the ammonia that’s mainly involved in the exhaust-scrubbing reaction. However, urea pellets are easier to handle than caustic ammonia.

In theory, the chemicals to make ammonia are present on the North Slope in the form of natural gas. Of course, the industrial infrastructure does not exist there to manufacture ammonia. Fertilizer was produced in bulk at Kenai Nitrogen, the factory near Nikiski owned by Nutrien, but that plant has been idled due to constraints on the supply of Cook Inlet gas.

Exactly where Colville will source urea for its DEF plant has not been decided as of this writing, but it would likely be an Outside chemical supplier. “They can get it wherever the best pricing is available, so they can source it from several different markets,” Bock says.

Urea is one more thing Colville must add to its northward pipeline, solely because of the EPA mandate. Reeves acknowledges that the company abides by whatever the current regulations are, and it has a responsibility from an environmental standpoint.

Incredible Growth
In addition to fueling machines, Colville serves the hungry humans who work on the Slope. The company’s Brooks Camp is essentially a 344-room hotel composed of four-story modules. Because of COVID-19, occupancy was limited to Colville employees only, but the facility is reopening, and food service is revving up in response to new activity.

“With the ramp up of the Willow and the Pikka projects, we’re getting more demand for those rooms,” Reeves says. “And we’re adding meal service: a breakfast and a dinner, with a to-go pick-up lunch area.”

Whether food or fuel, Colville manages the flow of essential supplies along the Dalton Highway. “Everything’s got to be either flown in or driven up the road,” says Bock. Thus, the company does all it can to keep that lifeline open.

A new heavy wrecker is joining the fleet this fall. Reeves says that gives Colville three tow trucks, plus one more coming in the next year.

Salvaging a wreck on the remotest road in the country takes special expertise. “A lot of art and science to do that job safely,” Reeves notes. Bock adds, “It’s imperative that if there is any kind of wreck, the sooner that road gets opened back up and clear, that’s obviously in everyone’s best interest.”

rows of a salad bar
Thanks to new activity on the North Slope, Colville is adding breakfast and dinner service at Brooks Camp, plus an area where Slope workers can pick up lunches to go.


Colville further enhanced its fleet repair and maintenance capabilities in the last year with a purchase from Northern Oilfield Solutions. “Included in that purchase was a six-bay shop that had caught fire back in 2019 with the previous owner,” Bock says. “When we purchased it, we made the investment to get that up and running again.” The new shop is triple the size of Colville’s previous two-bay maintenance shop at Prudhoe Bay, so it enables crews to have more tools on hand.

Those tools will be servicing fifteen new tractors joining the 2024 fleet. “We’ve got new ones arriving that we ordered a year ago,” Bock explains. “There’s a lot of severe long lead times on new equipment, so we’ve got trucks that are arriving as we speak and down the road. We’re also remodeling some of the older units and getting them refurbished—new engines and everything—so basically that’s going to increase our fleet.”

Colville’s tractors and tankers are equipped with specialized Arctic modifications to distribute fuel safely and efficiently to clients working in Prudhoe Bay.

“They’re already set up pretty well on those trucks,” Bock says. “We like to keep it that way… so we can continue making sure that we can supply the North Slope with all the fuel it needs.”

Colville fuels the Slope so that the Slope can produce crude oil for West Coast refineries to fuel the nation and the world. And the company is ready to meet the needs of producers developing new projects at the Pikka and Willow units.

Reeves says, “There’s incredible growth on the North Slope, and we think we’re the best positioned to help service those customers.”