For this Alaska clan, pipeline safety is the family business

SPONSORED: Martin Parsons thought he’d be a commercial fisherman like his dad. Instead, he’s a leader in oil and gas safety — and his wife and son work alongside him, making it a family affair.

If you’re trying to find an Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. employee named Martin Parsons, you’re going to have to be more specific.

You could be looking for Contingency and ICS Planning Manager Martin Parsons, who works out of the company’s Midtown Anchorage headquarters. But you’ll also find Martin Parsons working as a technician at the Valdez pipeline terminal.

Want some help sorting things out? Check with Deanna Parsons, an administrative analyst for Alyeska’s engineering contractor. She’s been married to one Martin Parsons for more than 25 years.

The other one calls her “Mom.”

A passion for Prince William Sound

If you told Martin Parsons 30 years ago that he’d spend his career working in the oil industry, he’d have said you were nuts.

“I grew up commercial fishing,” Martin said. “My dad commercial fished for 50 years. I was a commercial fisherman since the time I was five years old. I was born into it, so I always thought that’s what I would do.”

Martin was working on a shrimp boat out of Cordova on March 24, 1989, when the oil tanker Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. With the fisheries closed in the spill’s wake, he ended up working on the cleanup effort.

He didn’t know it then, but that first foray into spill response planted the seeds of a lifetime in oil and gas.

Martin went to welding school with an eye on expanding his career options. When he came home, an uncle suggested he apply for work with a spill response organization that was looking for welders. Martin had a job lined up on a crab boat out of Kodiak, but he figured the Valdez job was worth a shot.

“Next thing I knew I was doing my physical, drug test, and started working,” he said. “That was back in 1991.”

With emotions still raw from the spill, it was a tense time for a kid from a family of commercial fishermen to go into oil and gas.

“All my friends and family members still commercial fish,” Martin said. “It was a weird transition.”

But if the spill had taught Martin anything, it was that he wanted to make sure something like it never happened again. His career path soon led him into prevention and response, and he likes to think he has helped provide some reassurance to his fishing family.

One thing that helped ease tensions with the commercial fishing community, he said, was the launch of Alyeska’s Vessels of Opportunity program, which contracts with local boat crews to provide spill response support.

“We do a lot of training, not only in Prince William Sound but Kodiak, Homer, Seward, Valdez, Cordova, Whittier,” he said. “They see the emphasis we do put on safety.”

Martin’s love of the Sound is rooted in more than fishing; it’s central to his Alaska Native culture. Martin is a shareholder in Chenega Bay Corp. and The Eyak Corp., for which he serves as chairman of the board of directors. He also chairs Alyeska’s Alaska Native Program Advisory Board and is vice chair of the Alaska Clean Seas board of directors.

“The Prince William Sound is my backyard,” Martin said. “It’s my playground. It’s where I grew up. It’s where people earn a living. I don’t ever want to see anything like that happen again. That’s what’s kept me here so long.”

The homesteaders’ granddaughter

Deanna Parsons has her own deep roots in Alaska. Her paternal grandparents homesteaded in Chickaloon in the ’40s and ’50s. Her maternal grandparents drove from New York in 1966, crossing the border into Alaska on her mother’s 16th birthday. Deanna’s parents met when their families were among the first residents in the newly established town of Eagle River.

“I’m pretty Alaska-grown,” said Deanna, who grew up in Eagle River and moved to Cordova right before her 17th birthday, when her father was transferred to a new posting with the Alaska State Troopers. That was where she met Martin.

For Deanna, the first opportunity she had through Alyeska wasn’t a job — at least, not a job with the company. She and Martin married young, and when the first of their three children came along 26 years ago, his job supported the family so she could be a full-time mom.

“I consider myself very lucky,” Deanna said. “I tell everybody it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

Five years ago, when their youngest got her driver’s license, Deanna went back into the workforce, taking a job with Alyeska’s corporate communications team. When Martin started his new position in Anchorage about two years go, the company found a role for Deanna as well, first with the projects team and then as an administrative analyst working for the engineering director, a contractor through Chugach Alaska Corp.

“It’s really different every day, which I love about the job,” said Deanna, whose responsibilities range from planning travel and teambuilding events to facilitating meetings and arranging workspaces.

And it doesn’t hurt that she gets to spend so much time with her husband.

“We commute together and we work in the same building, and people say, ‘How in the world do you spend that much time together? How do you separate your life?’” she said. “We just make an effort.”

Martin and Deanna drive about 30 minutes each way from her family’s homestead on Little Peters Creek, commuting on the same highway where their son, Martin Dean, was born in an ambulance en route to the hospital. (“We almost named him Martin Glenn,” Martin said.) They have one rule on the drive home: No work talk past the Glenn Highway weigh station.

“Once we hit that weigh station, work talk stops,” Martin said. “We try not to bring work home.”

Martin’s passion for his career was contagious even before Deanna went to work for Alyeska. One year when they were still living in Valdez, she decided she wanted to learn more about his work with the fleet response program.

“I actually joined a commercial fisherman on his commercial vessel training,” she said. “It was really cool. I did it for three years, did the training and all of that, and the classes, and went out on the boat and on the drills.”

Knowing her husband and his love for the Sound, she said, it’s perfectly natural that he’d choose a career path that would help protect his home.

“He (comes) from a place of, one, ‘I want to make sure that this never happens again,’ and two, that if something like this happens again, he wanted to be on that ground floor of being prepared and knowing that they have the tools and knowledge” to mitigate it, she said.

In the years that have passed since Martin went to work for Alyeska, she added, members of his fishing family have recognized his commitment to keeping Alaska’s waters safe.

“A couple of years ago we were in Cordova for something, and an older gentleman that he had known for his whole life pulled him aside and said, ‘I just want you to know how proud we are of how hard you’ve worked to make sure we’re prepared,’” Deanna said.

The new generation

Martin Parsons is the fourth man in his family to bear his name. His son, Martin Dean Parsons, is the fifth. And it usually doesn’t cause much confusion… except when it comes to work.

“(I get) a lot of emails that aren’t really meant for me,” Martin Dean said. “It actually took them quite a while to figure out an email address for me.”

Two years ago, Martin Dean joined Alyeska as a technician in the vapor recovery facility at the Valdez terminal. He didn’t grow up thinking he’d work with his parents someday, but after checking out a few different courses of study at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he discovered the process technology program and knew he’d found his niche.

“I just loved it,” Martin Dean said. “The way my teachers taught everything, they just made the whole subject interesting.”

Martin Dean did two internships with Alyeska, and once he had his instrumentation technology certificate in hand, he won a full-time position at the pipeline terminal he’d been looking at since childhood from across the port.

The kid who grew up teasing his dad about his commitment to safety culture — Martin says the children used to make fun of him for wearing safety glasses to do home repairs — is now responsible for maintaining an inert environment inside the crude oil tanks and ensuring the system isn’t venting hydrocarbon vapors or sucking in oxygen. If he doesn’t do his job, everyone will know right away; the vapor recovery facility is also the terminal’s power plant.

“It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something every day when I leave for the day and the lights are still on at the terminal,” Martin Dean said.

And aside from the odd misdirected email, he thinks it’s really cool to be working in the same company as his parents.

“It wasn’t like going into some random company that you’ve never heard of,” he said. “I knew exactly what I was getting into.”

His coworkers are high school classmates and their parents, college friends, and people who’ve been his dad’s colleagues for decades.

“Being his namesake — you’ve got to live up to it a little bit,” he said. “It’s something that I’m pretty proud to do.”

As parents, Martin and Deanna say they feel privileged to have so much in common with their son as he sets out on his own career.

“It's been fun to watch him grow and listen to him talk about things that excite him,” Deanna said. “We know what he's talking about with a piece of machinery at work, and he can tell us what he did on it. I think that's unique.”

‘Are you Martin Parsons’ dad?’

In Martin’s Anchorage office, there’s a document more than 40 years old — a commendation from E.L. Hutton, then president of the pipeline, congratulating Martin’s grandfather on pipeline work done by North Gulf Natives, Inc., a company of what is today called Chugach Alaska Corp.

“When the pipe came into Valdez off the ships, (North Gulf Natives) was contracted to knock the ends off the pipes and get them ready to be welded,” Martin explained. His maternal grandfather led the team, and his father was part of the crew — making Martin Dean Parsons the fourth generation of his family to work on the pipeline.

In his 28-year career, Martin has watched the industry change significantly — often, he said, for the better, especially when it comes to safety and innovation.

“I was around when we were running over a million barrels a day,” he said. “That’s been a big change.”

Even as the oil and gas landscape in Alaska changes, both Martin and Deanna said they’re happy to see their son go into the field.

“What he does is very important for the company,” Martin said. “I 100 percent know that he’s going to put in a 40-year career as well.”

And it’s a treat to share the business with his son, he said, even though it’s a sign of the passage of time. The generational shift was apparent to Martin on a visit earlier this fall to a pipeline pump station.

“We brought in some technician trainees that were just hired; they’re doing a pipeline tour,” he said. “They said, ‘Are you Martin Parsons’ dad?’

“I’ve lost status now,” he joked.

Presented by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, working to promote the long-term health of the oil and gas industry for the benefit of all Alaskans. Learn more at

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This story was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with AOGA. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.