Natural gas is becoming the talk of the continent. Will it be the wave of the future? It had better, with all the gas rich formations that have been activated recently.
The Barnett Shale natural gas field, a field so vast that the U.S. Geological Service estimates it contains as much as 160 Bcf of natural gas per square mile, covers at least 15 counties in the north central part of Texas.
In the Northeast U.S., the Marcellus shale, which has produced natural gas for years, is receiving renewed interest from gas production companies. Estimates have calculated there could be 168 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in place there and with amounts potentially as high as 516 trillion cubic feet.
Closer to home, the Caney/Woodford Shale in eastern Oklahoma, the Fayetteville Shale in northern Arkansas, Bossier Sands in East Texas and western Louisiana, and the Haynesville Shale in northern Louisiana promise to infuse rural areas with huge amounts of cash over the next several years.
Multiple players have jumped in to develop these fields, but as rigs tap these vast reserves, a pipeline network must be in place to transfer the gas to markets in the system. In order to meet the demand of moving the gas to market, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners has established a pipeline network throughout the Louisiana, southern Mississippi and eastern Texas.
Boardwalk is a master limited partnership engaged through its subsidiaries, Gulf Crossing Pipeline, Texas Gas Transmission and Gulf Crossing Pipeline, in the interstate transportation and storage of natural gas. Their system is a web of small gathering lines that move gas from the production fields to storage fields, and ultimately into long haul lines that lead to the Midwest and as far northeast as Indiana and Ohio.
The system is growing. Boardwalk is in the process of building approximately 1,000 miles of pipe, totaling $4.7 billion. Within the past year, Boardwalk has completed an East Texas to Mississippi Expansion and a Southeast Expansion through Mississippi. In Arkansas, Boardwalk brought the first 60 miles of their 32-inch Fayetteville Lateral online this past fall, with plans for the remaining 107 miles to be in service during the first quarter 2009. The longest new pipeline, 42 inches in diameter stretching 357 miles from Sherman, TX, to Tallulah, LA, is also nearing completion.
These new lines do not even address the transport needs of the new Haynesville Shale, which has yet to be developed. Obtaining permits for construction and purchasing right-of-way easements require years of forward planning on the part of the owner.
The Price Gregory pipe gang and firing line crews set a project record near Homer, LA – welding together almost 1-3/4 miles on Sept. 17. The terrain was easy, and weather played a big part in that Wednesday's record push. After an unusually hot summer, mid-September had begun to give way to autumn. Hurricane Ike had plowed through just the week before, knocking the traditional summer high-pressure zone out of place.
“Look at this weather,” said Mike Cable, a quality control inspector with On-Shore Quality Control. “The men feel like working.” The crew, numbering 144 men and women, seemed to have a renewed vigor that week.
The new pipeline snaking its way across northern Louisiana is part of a project being mirrored in north Texas, according to John Schwartz, regional manager with Gulf South. In order to speed completion of the 357-mile-long, 42-inch pipeline, the project was sectioned into five contracts, each being built simultaneously from its western point to join the next one to its east. Construction began in June 2008.
Gregory & Cook Construction, Inc. is constructing the westernmost leg, from Sherman to Paris, TX. Gregory & Cook Construction, Inc. and H.C. Price merged in January 2008, creating the combined companies now known as Price Gregory. Houston-based U.S. Pipeline, Inc. is installing the spread from Paris to the Morris County line; and Rockford Corp.'s contract begins at that point and extends to US 71 near Mira, north of Shreveport, LA. Price Gregory is the general contractor for two contracts extending from US 71 near Mira eastward to LA Hwy. 15 just south of Bayou D'Arbonne Lake north of Ruston, LA, a distance of 92.5 miles. Sheehan Pipe Line Construction Company of Tulsa is building the easternmost portion of the line, approximately 77 miles from LA Hwy. 15 to Tallulah.
Price, specialists in mainline cross-country pipelines, honed their skills on the trans-Alaska pipeline and has the business down to a science. Chuck Yokiel, project engineer for Price Gregory, described the “train,” a moving assembly line where the number of workers has been timed to keep up with the pace of the pipe gang.
“The grade crew prepares the 70-foot-wide right-of-way and performs a little leveling side to side so the pipe has less tendency to roll, fatally injuring anyone; and they cut down the hills a little bit so we don't have to bend the pipe so sharp. We build bridges across the streams and lay out a heavy-duty boardwalk across the swamps.”
The stringing crew brings in the 80-foot sections of pipe from the stockpile, where it is delivered from the Jindal steel manufacturing plant in Baytown, TX. Most of the pipeline uses a steel wall thickness of .560 inch. They will use .890 wall – almost 1 inch – in the vicinity of towns.
“Once the pipe joints are set along the route, a small team of engineers calculates the vertical, sag and side bends that will have to be made in the pipe to allow it to follow the terrain,” Yokiel continues. “The engineer marks on each joint what has to be done to that joint. The bending crew has a machine that bends the pipe joints to specification.”
The pipeline is then ready for an awesome spectacle – a dust-raising flurry of more than 100 workers that leaves in its wake a continuous 42-inch steel pipeline. Their goal is to cover about one mile per day, more or less. They move so fast that they are difficult to locate from one week to the next.
At the front of this assembly line is the “pipe gang.” As soon as two joints are lined up, three welders simultaneously weld a bead pass, also known as a root, each around one-third of the circumference of the pipe as quickly as possible. As soon as they are done, they move on to the next setup, which has been lined up in the meantime. That takes less than five minutes. Jindal fabricated the joints with a beveled end to speed the operation. The bevel gives the welder a little room to maneuver the welding rod in that tight space.
“The next welding pass takes a little more time,” Yokiel explained. “It takes four welders to keep up with three.” In order to keep pace with the bead welders, two teams of two hot pass welders follow in right behind. “They want to keep the time that elapses between the first root pass and that second pass to be minimal. After that, the firing line welders move in as a group, each with their own personal welding rig.” Working in pairs, each on their own side of the pipe, they fill in the rest of the weld and cap it. This step is more detailed and takes more time, necessitating six to eight pairs of welders.
“We're a union contractor,” Yokiel said. “The welders union has veryproficient welders. Before they can work on this job, they have to take a welding test.”
“An x-ray crew follows behind and checks for impurities, inferior welds and cracks. The coating crew sandblasts the weld, heats it and applies a powdered epoxy that will protect the steel from corrosion. If we have to make a cut-off, the lower-in crew will cut the weld off, prep the ends again and make a line-up and bring a couple of welders in to weld it again.”
Following the pipe gang, the trenching crew with half a dozen Caterpillar 330 track hoes digs the ditch 7 to 8 feet deep to mirror the angles of the pipe, which was bent before welding to follow the terrain and right of way. This depth will allow 3-1/2 feet of cover. The lowering-in crew lowers long sections of pipe into the ditch. At road and stream crossings, the tie-in crew must weld the long sections to the ends of the short section that was bored in. Because it is a more meticulous process, Price Gregory is employing two tie-in crews on each of these projects.
Laney Directional Drilling of Humble, TX, a specialty HDD contractor, was subcontracted to pull a 2,000-foot line under the Red River north of Shreveport, LA. It was 42-inch diameter as the remainder of the pipeline, except the wall thickness was .750 inch. Laney also bored the pipe under all significant public and private roads.
Once the pipe is installed, the right-of-way is restored with landscaping to prevent erosion.
The Gulf Crossing Pipeline is designed to carry gas from the Barnett Shale field in north Texas and the Caney/Woodford Shale in eastern Oklahoma to the emerging pipeline hub of Perryville, LA, where the gas can be dropped off to other pipelines or continue along the recently completed East Texas to Mississippi Expansion.
The pipeline will be owned by Gulf Crossing Pipeline Company LLC (Gulf Crossing), a Boardwalk subsidiary, and will consist of approximately 357 miles of 42-inch pipeline having approximately 1.7 Bcf of peak-day transmission capacity with the addition of compression facilities.
This project emphasizes the shortage of skilled construction workers, from welders to equipment operators and truck drivers.
“We're having a hard time filling all our slots with experienced operators,” said Yokiel. “This project has placed an incredible demand on the work force due to all the pipeline work going on.”