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Turning Pipe into Pipeline

  April 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 2

Turning Pipe into Pipeline
By: Ray Keller, National Sales Manager, Pipeline Division, BEG Group, LLC



A: 40′ AT A TIME

Construction of a pipeline of any diameter and length is a very complex process. We will skip all the need issues, what determines the need for a pipeline from point A to point B, and regulatory and permitting process and get right to the nuts and bolts of construction practices and methods. To anyone who is familiar with all the complicated issues, I defer you to next month’s article in which I will concentrate on some of the more sophisticated pieces of equipment unique to the industry. Building a pipeline can be very easily explained by making an analogy to perhaps a forgotten winter song that starts “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmothers house we go!!” Yes pipelines go under the rivers, railroad tracks, roads, through the rock and wet areas, over the mountains, and eventually get the product from point A to point B.

Now there are many types of pipelines, perhaps more than one would realize. Sewage pipelines, water pipelines, drainage pipelines, even pipelines that carry several different products at the same time, a process called “batching”. For the sake of our discussion here we will consider only those that carry energy i.e. natural gas, oil, and other energy related liquids and gasses. These pipelines are the truckers of the energy industry. They are basically transportation modems whereby the truck stays in one place and the liquids and gasses moves on through. Come to think of it, the construction of a pipeline is the same. The building of a pipeline is an assembly line whereby the product (the pipeline) remains in place and the assembly line moves. Not quite the same as one would view the production of automobiles. The pipeline assembly line is a group of machines and man power that moves along from location to location, one joint to the next, as the pipeline is built. And in as much as most pipe comes in 40′ lengths or “joints”, no matter what the diameter, that’s how we arrive at the answer to our question. All pipelines involved in oil and gas transmission are made of cold rolled steel in different diameters and thicknesses depending upon how much energy is to be transported. Size ranges go from 8″ to not usually over 48″. Although a prime exception is the Russian 56″ dual pipeline that stretches some 1.500 miles from Siberia to Western Europe constructed in the early 1970″s. It furnishes 80% of the energy used by Europe and the former Soviet Union block countries. It is also a very important political tool the Russians ruthlessly use to get their way in many international venues. All they have to do is threaten to shut off the flow in the dead of winter (and have done so) and countries usually give way. But I’m getting sidetracked. So, do the math. 1,500 miles X 2, 40′ at a time. The individual sections require a very precise weld every 40′ and, depending upon the thickness of the “wall”, pipe may require over 50 lbs. of welding rod to make one complete weld. Pretty amazing? You bet. And another thing to keep in mind when thinking about construction techniques. There is no such thing as a straight pipeline. We will address that issue shortly.


Once the route is determined, points A & B, a continuous path of land or Right of Way (ROW) must be acquired by the owner of the route. A piece of property must be fully acquired considering all environmental concerns and landowner rights approximately 100′ wide and perhaps 100 miles long. Existing pipeline corridors are often used to minimize the cost of new land and more importantly, reduce overall environmental impact. Impact studies are done on public lands and private landowners are paid fairly for their property. Permits are obtained for any different number of needs, including but not limited to, temporary access roads, stream and river crossings, and railroad/ highway crossings are obtained. Crossings of existing pipelines follow the rule that the new pipeline must go under any existing pipelines it crosses.


The assembly line begins. Clearing and preparing the ROW for installation is first out. Trees that must be removed are recycled for other uses. Topsoil is stripped and stored so it can be replaced upon completion of construction. Rock must be removed, sometimes by blasting. Trenching can then begin. The trench size is determined and then padded on the bottom to give the new pipeline a soft bed in which to lay. Streams and river crossing areas are protected to eliminate erosion, and then are drilled under to minimize disruption.

Next, the pipe is laid near the ditch in 40′ sections. Each joint is numbered and identified for future reference. This process is commonly called “stringing”. As we stated earlier, there is no such thing as a straight pipeline. Joints must be engineered to be bent by a very specialized crew using highly sophisticated equipment. There are side bends, over bends, sag bends, and combination bends made where needed. In areas where the bends are too severe pre-made fittings are put in place.

Now the welding of the individual joints can begin. Welding can be done manually, a highly skilled practice called stick welding, or if the line is long enough specialized equipment is used to mechanically weld the joints together. No matter which process is used, every weld must be inspected not only visually but by X-Ray or other highly reliable means. If the weld passes, it is documented. If it is flawed, repairs must be made and re-inspected. Each weld is numbered and a permanent record is kept on file.

All pipe has a protective coating on it to prevent corrosion while in the ground.  Because the welding process generates heat that may compromise that coating each joint has a “cutback” of approximately 6″ on either end that once the weld is completed, must be cleaned, and coating applied so there is a continuous layer of protection on the entire length of the line. Each coated weld joint is electronically tested to insure there are no voids in the coating. These voids or “holidays” if found are patched and retested.

The lowering in and tie in crews are next. The pipe is picked up with machinery called side booms working in tandem and the pipe is gently lowered in to the padded ditch. In areas where pre-installed sections were made at road crossings, stream crossings etc., a final weld called a “tie in weld” is made to make the pipeline one complete unit.

At this point back-filling can begin using rock free screened back fill material originally taken from the ditching operation or where necessary, soft sand or other appropriate material. The original topsoil is then used to top off the operation and the whole ROW is graded to its’ original slope and contour.

There are many safeguards taken during the construction process to insure the integrity of the pipeline. One of the last phases of the construction process is to install a system of electrodes and anodes to the pipeline to insure it will not be subject to electrolysis. This system is called cathodic protection and is monitored and maintained throughout the entire life of the pipeline.

One of the final phases of construction is testing of the pipeline to insure its’ integrity along the entire length. This process is called hydrostatic testing. Think of the plumbing system in your house. Your plumber fills your lines with water and increases the pressure which is monitored by gauges. If the gauges hold, the system has no leaks and is certified by the plumber. The exact same process is used in hydrostatic testing except on a much larger scale. Tests are held for 24 hours at a pressure equal to 105% of the bursting strength of the pipe. Once the test has been certified, the test water is filtered, the line is dewatered and dried, and the water is discharged to the source from which it was taken.

Before the line is put into service, the ROW is completely restored and landscaped a process termed “Clean Up”. The pipeline can now begin to deliver product from Point A to Point B. This is a rather simple overview of what goes into building a pipeline. The engineering and construction techniques have been developed and proven over a period of many decades and are constantly being fine-tuned. Pipelines are not without flaws but are by far the safest and most efficient way of transporting our nation’s energy from where it is to where it needs to go.

Project update from last month

Nexus Pipeline 255 miles 36″ OH
Pushed from Spring to Fall Start

Work started on schedule

A court ruling over riding NY States’ ability to withhold water permit could fast
track this project

PENN EAST PIPELINE 126 miles various diameters PA & NJ
No change

Howard Gathering System 10 miles 8″ & 16″ PA
Precision P/L Still on track for April Start

No change

No change

ACCESS NORTHEAST 96 miles 24″ 30″ 42″ PA & NY
No change

Awarded: Infrasource

ATLANTIC COAST PIPELINE 580 miles 42″ 36″ & 20″ WV VA NC
No change

No change

EQT NEXT ERA P/L 303 miles 42″ WV VA
No change

MARK WEST ENERGY 28 miles 20″
No change

WILLIAMS/TRANSCO 35 miles 42″ 26″
No change

Triadelphia OH
June 2018 start
Contractor TBD

Erie County PA to Ashtabula OH
July 18 start
Contractor TBD

WILLIAMS/TRAMSCO 10 miles 42″,3.2 miles 26″ 22 miles 26″
Lancaster PA to Middlesex NJ
12/18 award
Contractor TBD

TRANSCANADA 4 miles 30″ 35 miles 36″
Harrison, Doddridge, Wetzel Counties WV
Award Ace Pipeline
May/June start

TRANSCANADA 3.5 miles 8″
Morgan City MD
April start
Contractor TBD

NATIONAL FUEL GAS 14 miles 12″
McKean City PA
May start
Contractor TBD

EQT 13.6 miles 16″
Waynesburg PA
May start
Contractor TBD

MARK WEST ENERGY 24.8 miles 20″
Beech Bottom, WV to Hopedale OH
Minnesota Ltd
June start

Piedmont Natural Gas 35 miles 30″
Maxton NC
June start
Troy Construction

Piedmont Natural Gas 3 miles 20″ 2.5 miles 12″
Nashville, Tennessee
July start
Contractor TBD

Duke Energy 12 miles 30″
Hamilton County OH
Sept start
Contractor TBD

Duke Energy 7 miles 20″
Fairfield County OH
April Start
Contractor TBD

This is a list of major projects only. There are many more needing skilled and unskilled workers. If you have a skill you think might be useful to a contractor and are looking for hard work and a great wage, I would encourage you to contact one or more of the contractors mentioned here. They will be looking for help. Please remember you will be working under the DOT Safety and Drug Policy rules.