The pipeline captain: The Story of Rubén Altamirano
Thanks to Techint Engineering & Construction, he’s traveled the world, taking part in some of the company’s most complex and emblematic projects. Today, as he nears his 75th birthday, his passion remains intact, complemented by the wisdom gained by his experiences; he’s still a major influence in the company and a pillar of its history.
Rubén Altamirano joined Techint E&C some 55 years ago, as a pipe worker for the ESSO de Campana refinery project (McKee & Techint) in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before that, he’d spent six formative years in the Navy, a soul-building experience where he also learned a number of skills that were to provide him with valuable knowledge for his upcoming adventures. Today, as the Construction Manager of Line 4.2 of the President Néstor Kirchner Gas Pipeline (GPNK) in Argentina, he looks back on a career that has taken him around the world and all it has given him.
Tell us about your journey through the company’s different projects.
Techint has undertaken some of the most difficult projects in the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of many of these, and to have learned so much from the great minds in Engineering and Construction. People who’ve always been deeply passionate about the company, such as Caironi, Leonardo Ionfridas, and so many others on a list that’s virtually endless. My life as a pipeline operator started back in 1971 or 1972, in Olavarría in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a 30-inch gas pipeline. That’s where my story begins, one constantly fueled by the passion that this profession sparks in people.
Perhaps it was the Navy that forged your adventurous spirit…
It certainly did! I was a sailor before I started work at Techint, then I joined the company and have had some amazing adventures. I remember in 1974, when I was working on the North Peruvian Pipeline, the Oleoducto Norperuano, a gigantic work in the heart of the Amazon, which had to transport oil to the Talara refineries on the shores of the Pacific on the Peruvian coastline. When we arrived, we had to upgrade the roads, cross the mountain range to reach the rainforest, and of course, back then the company didn’t have the technologies it has today. We built our crew camps along the course taken by the 36” oil pipeline. When we started work to open the right of way, through almost impenetrable jungle, we ended up requesting the intervention and help of a local indigenous tribe called the Aguarunos to help us do this properly. There were trees towering 30 meters into the air, with trunks so thick that it took two or three people to encircle them. That experience marked my life, and the lives of many of my colleagues. We were living at the camp for about seven months and we managed to deliver the project on time.
Then you went to Saudi Arabia?
Yes, I was sent to take part in the construction of a liquid gas pipeline in the desert. It was extremely complex as in my case I didn't speak much English so we had to make do with a bit of Italian. We had to get used to scorching temperatures and the time difference. We shared our daily routines with Italians, Argentines, Somalis, Turks, Filipinos, Thais... it was a real “Tower of Babel.”
I learned a lot there, I helped with the management of the camps, and then they gave me a team to drill some wells to get water. We carried out hydraulic testing and valve installation.
Did you return to Latin America from there?
Yes, in fact I returned to Argentina. That was when we began to build the TEPAM machinery yard (Techint Parque de Máquinas), originally just a piece of wooded land. Later, I took part in a project in the south of the country, and from there I went to Colombia, where I spent the next 20 years. I was involved in some key works there, as the government had decided to build several gas pipelines to expand its National Gas Plan. After that I went to Ecuador, where I worked for a year on the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline (OCP), as a superintendent. Then I returned to Peru, where the company was building the Camisea gas pipeline, the largest and most critical energy project in the country, which starts in the Amazon and crosses the Andean mountain range, ending its journey on the Pacific coast. This was a colossal work, not only because of the course it took through the rainforest, mountains and coast, but also because of the complexity of the logistics involved.Years later, I was lucky enough to join the Gas Pipeline Operation and Maintenance group as head of maintenance and emergencies for this project until 2009.
Later on, I was involved in building the LNG, a vast work where we obtained the Guinness record for pipeline welding at 4,700 meters above sea level. I’ve worked on projects in Chile, Bolivia and Mexico. In Mexico, I was in the group charged with clearing the swamp area, with all that this implies: high temperatures, the presence of reptiles, huge difficulties in getting equipment into the area, a hostile environment, and permanently being surrounded by mud and water.
You’ve clearly always been highly motivated, throughout your career: what is it that motivates you?
There are two main things that I find really fulfilling in my work. The first is the attraction I have for pipelines, it’s the work itself, it’s a passion that I can’t begin to describe! Because you visualize these projects in your head, and when they come to fruition, it’s immensely satisfying.
Secondly, I’m really motivated by helping to train young people, interacting with them and learning from them. We try to teach all the specialties involved in the works that the company carries out: welders, operators, special equipment, mechanics, instruments, for instance. Our team philosophy is, “If I want to climb up a step, I must train someone to take the step I’m currently on, so that I can move up.” This approach is also something that the company supports, by encouraging people to share knowledge and train the younger generations.
What advice would you give to young people who are just starting out?
I’d tell them that this is a way of life, that they have to prepare themselves because there are several things that they need to assimilate, such as being separated from their families for set periods of time, for instance. I’d also tell them to make the most of all the training opportunities they get, because technology is progressing by leaps and bounds, and they should always try to stay ahead of the curve.
Are you thinking about retiring?
Despite the fact that I am mentally ready for this, at the moment I don’t see myself stepping back… God and the company will decide when this happens!
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