Production Demand Popping for Pipeline Parts Provider

Fri November 25, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

WESTLAKE (AP) Hurricane damage to oil and gas pipelines has meant a rush of activity for a small northeast Ohio business that makes steel split sleeves for pipeline repairs.

So far this year, Pipe Line Development Co. of suburban Cleveland has hired six new employees, bringing its total to 70, with many of them putting in 12-hour shifts.

“With hurricanes Katrina and Rita we saw about 100 pipelines that were damaged,” said Craig Stevens, a Department of Energy spokesman in Washington. “These are pipelines that are needed for diesel fuel, gasoline and jet fuels in areas across the country.”

Stevens said pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico are privately owned and the federal government has no estimate on the total cost of repairs.

David Fournier, vice president of Pipeline Supply & Service Co. in Houston, said businesses that supply parts to build or repair pipelines generally are seeing an upswing.

“Our business here has improved dramatically since the hurricanes,” he said.

Fournier said one popular alternative to the steel split sleeves are Clock Spring fiberglass composites used for line reinforcement and repair.

“It’s still really early in the evaluation process to see how many lines need repaired,” Fournier said. “A lot of lines are being temporarily repaired to maintain flow, and they will then be repaired later in the season. The next two months are normal season to repair those lines in the Gulf, and new construction usually starts in the spring.”

At Pipe Line Development, also known as PLIDCO, workers prepare the steel sleeves and test them to make sure they can hold up under high pressure. In Gulf waters, divers clamp the sleeves over damaged pipelines and bolt them together to seal leaks and keep oil and gas flowing.

Operating six or seven days a week, the factory not only meets demands from the storm-damaged Gulf but also works to replenish its warehouse, where it ships to customers throughout the world.

“More than 70 percent of our business is for export,” said sales manager Frank Castro.

The company is making sleeves for Nigeria and reconditioning some large pieces it made eight years ago for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Joseph Smith founded the company with his wife in 1949. His early inventions –– sleeves with built-in seals that bolted together around a pipeline –– helped standardize the repair process. The idea was to save money by avoiding a shutdown and avoid welding an empty or partly filled line, said Edward Smith, a son of the deceased founder and now president and owner.