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Millennium Pipeline Replaces Old Gas Line in New York

Fri December 05, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Hetrick

Replacing a flowing gas line is tricky. If the gas line happens to be 182 mi. (293 km) long and involves working in areas that feature nearly straight vertical drops, it’s that much more of a challenge.

And those are the fundamentals of the new underground, natural gas pipeline going into the ground in upstate New York, under the direction of Millennium Pipeline Company LLC, Pearl River, N.Y. It is at the center of the Northeast (NE)-07 project, which involves the expansion of several existing pipelines — the Empire, Algonquin and Iroquois pipelines. Also included in the physical facilities is a 15,000-hp (11,181 kW) compressor station located in Corning, N.Y. The Millennium Project has two primary staging areas; one located in Swan Lake, N.Y., and the other in Pine Island, N.Y.

The Millennium project began in June 2007 and was expected to be complete in November 2008, with some land restoration finishing up in 2009. The $1 billion project requires re-excavating an existing 12-in. (30.48 cm) pipeline and replacing it with a 30-in. diameter (76.2 cm) natural gas pipeline that will run across New York’s Southern Tier and lower Hudson Valley. The excavation of the job site involves digging a ditch that is approximately 8 to 10 ft. (2.4 to 3.04 m) deep and replacing the pipeline in 80-ft. (24.3 m) sections. The site construction area involves a 50-ft. (15.2 m) right of way 25 ft. (7.6 m) from each side of the pipe, plus an additional 25 ft., which can be used as a temporary work area.

Precision Pipeline, Eau Claire, Wis., is performing a large percentage of the work. The company was founded in 2004 by Dan Murphy and Steve Rooney. Both men have been in the industry since they were 16 years old. Between them, the founders have nearly 50 years of experience in the industry. Since the company began, it has done extensive work in every region of the country. There are currently 800 Precision employees working at each of the two staging areas of the Millennium Project.

Precision is responsible for nearly all of the phases of the construction work on the pipeline. The project includes clearing and grading the sites; ditching (removal of all rocks); padding the ditch bottom; bending and welding the pipes; x-raying and then coating the wells; lowering the pipes into the trenches; backfilling the pipes; pressure testing the pipes for leaks; cleanup of the site; and finally, reseeding and restoration of the right-of-way area.

In most areas of the project the old pipeline was removed using excavators and other traditional equipment. But for about 19 percent of the project crews had to resort to blasting to get to the pipe. In ideal conditions 15 mi. (24 km) of pipeline work can be completed in three months or so. Precision Pipeline has a massive fleet of earth moving equipment numbering in the hundreds, about 55 percent of which is owned and 45 percent of which is rented.

According to Sean Smith, Precision Pipeline’s safety manager, “One of the biggest challenges of this construction project occurred when the pipeline was crossing the steep hills [Palisades] in the lower Hudson Valley; working with shear rock in areas that involved nearly total straight vertical drops at elevations of 2,000 feet or so. These areas certainly slowed down construction progress. However, in flatter areas with little rock they are able to complete up to a couple of miles of pipeline in a single week.”

During the construction process the flow of gas through the pipeline system cannot be interrupted. The gas companies put systems in place to re-route gas as sections of the pipeline are under construction, all of which calls for stringent scheduling and strict deadlines that must be met by Precision so that the flow of gas is not interrupted.

Of course, working with a flowing gas line also dramatically increases safety considerations on the job site. All Precision employees are put through a rigorous safety-training program before they can ever enter the job site.

To accomplish this arduous task, Precision is using a great deal of equipment from Nortrax Equipment Company, Beacon, N.Y., including John Deere 75,000- to 100,000-lb. (34,019 to 45,359 kg) excavators, 30-ton (27 t) articulated trucks, dozers and Hitachi excavators.

The John Deere equipment has been a huge success on the site, according to Bill Amick who is the ditch foreman for Precision Pipeline. The John Deere 450DLC 100,000-lb. excavator, in particular, is popular with all of his operators and Amick wishes there were more of those on site.

“During this project there have been no major problems with the John Deere equipment that was rented from Nortrax Equipment. The machines are very reliable and well supported by the employees from the Beacon, N.Y., location of Nortrax,” Amick said.

“With the John Deere 350DLC 70,000-pound machine the difference I really notice is speed and raw power. The 350DLC is faster than any other excavator on our site in the same weight class and demonstrates tremendous breakout force. These machines are required at times to excavate 3,000 to 3,500 feet of ditch a day, sometimes on slopes as high as 29 degrees. In these conditions stability is very important and the John Deere machines are very stable,” Amick said.

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide’s Web site at CEG

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