The owners of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. have asked a senior vice president to run the company while they search for a new chief executive.
Greg Jones, a former Coast Guard commander who joined Alyeska in 1997, will take over the duties immediately, replacing Kevin Hostler who is leaving now although his official last day is Sept. 30.
Hostler sent an email to employees on Friday informing them of the change and that it was effective as of Friday.
Michelle Egan, an Alyeska spokeswoman, said Saturday that the owners -- the five oil companies who own and operate the trans-Alaska pipeline system -- delegated the authority to Jones until they find a permanent replacement for Hostler.
For the first time in pipeline history, the owners are looking outside their own companies for the person who will head Alyeska. Since the pipeline began operating in 1977, the president of Alyeska has been an executive on loan from one of the companies. And with one exception the president has always come from BP.
The TAPS owners have hired a national search firm to look for a candidate, Egan said, acknowledging that "it is a departure from the past."
She said the question of why the owners decided to look outside themselves would be better put to the owner companies. But she noted that none of the companies had a candidate they were ready to put forward right now, although the owners could still ultimately decide to continue that practice.
BP and Hostler in particular have been under fire lately; the company for the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Hostler for employee complaints about his ability to run the company, including his management style. The Gulf spill also served to focus attention on BP's sometimes troubled history in Alaska, on the North Slope as well as at Alyeska which it has tended to operate with a firm hand over the decades.
At least two congressional committees have held hearings and are looking into concerns with BP and Alyeska.
Hostler, who has run the pipeline company for five years, was supposed to retire at the end of the year but earlier this summer, in the midst of news reports of employee unrest and a congressional subcommittee's inquiries into how that might have played into a large spill in May at Pump Station 9, Hostler announced he'd decided to leave Sept. 30.
Hostler was BP's senior vice president for global human resources before moving to the Alyeska top job.
Egan said Hostler is moving to Texas with his family.
Jones, who was a commander of the Coast Guard's Valdez office, is senior vice president of technical services for Alyeska. Even as acting CEO his appointment has generated a buzz because it's unusual for the TAPS owners to turn over management to an Alyeska employee, rather than an oil company employee.
Alyeska is a consortium of BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Unocal and Koch. It operates the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez as well as the Valdez shipping terminal.
Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com.