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THE BIG DIG

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / October 30, 2014
One of the largest infrastructure projects in Southside Virginia in many years — the Virginia Southside Expansion, adding 98 miles of natural gas pipeline from Chatham to Lawrenceville — is quickly snaking its way into Halifax County.

Within two weeks, project manager A. J. Patel said he expects crews to start installing steel pipe in Halifax County, as installation of the Williams Transco Energy Southside expansion project marches forward. Texas-based Troy Construction is building the pipeline for Williams, which is bringing natural gas to the new Brunswick natural gas-fired power plant being built by Dominion Virginia Power. The Virginia Southside Expansion is an offshoot of an existing Williams gas pipeline that runs through Chatham.

The construction project, which began in September, employs nearly 600 workers. Among them welders, x-ray technicians, grinders, laborers, and heavy equipment operators.

Already, clearing work is taking place off Sinai Road as existing right-of-way is readied for pipe laying of the “lateral B line.” (The new line runs parallel to a Williams Transco line that was laid in the 1960s.) Once it reaches Brunswick County, the new lateral B line will connect to seven miles of additional new pipe, called the “Brunswick Lateral,” whose terminus is the new Dominion power station just outside Lawrenceville.

In addition to the pipeline, Williams is also installing a new compressor station, number 166, adjacent to compressor station 165 in Pittsylvania County. Work on that part of the project should be completed by April, said Keith Isbell, Senior Communications Specialists with Williams. The station is an integral part of the expansion as it monitors and regulates the gas as it flows through the pipeline.

The project kicked off on Sept. 17, and by Sept. 1, 2015, the line must be fully operational as that is the date Dominion plans for its new power station to come on line. Before that, Troy, the general contractor, and the other contractors must clear and grade Williams’ existing right of way, dig 3’ and in some instances 5’ deep trenches for laying the pipe, string and bend 98 miles of 24” carbon steel pipe, weld the 80’ lengths of pipe, x-ray each weld for structural integrity before seal coating the joints, lower the pipe into the ground, backfill the trench and then test the line.

On good days, the ground clearing crew prepares approximately 1 mile of the pipeline right of way, removing brush and topsoil. Extra time is needed if the right of way crosses a wetland or even an access road. John Shinn, who serves as the head inspector and day-to-day site manager for the project says the pipe laying crew can also weld, x-ray, seal coat and drop in place one mile of pipe per day.

Shinn says the process of installing a gas pipeline is very much like an assembly line with eight steps. The first step began more than three years ago when Williams hired archeologists, biologists, geologists, and surveyors to walk, mark, and map the area where the pipe would lay. The process was made easier because this new line mostly lies within 20’ of an existing pipeline. Still they had to update their topographical and contour maps to match existing grades. At one site, to avoid having to lay pipe in a wetland managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, they negotiated a new right of way with landowners.

With this complete, Williams brought in crews to clear the right of way and install temporary erosion control measures. This work that began September 17 near Chatham. Shinn said, if the easement runs through property that is actively farmed, the clearing crew carefully removes and sets aside the topsoil. Once the pipe is laid and the trench is backfilled, the top soil will be returned to the field.

“Our goal,” explains Isbell, “is to restore the land, roads and wetlands, as much as possible to the condition they were in before we installed the pipe.” But that is step eight in this assembly line process.

As clearing is completed along the pipeline, Williams brings in backhoes and trenching machines to excavate a pipeline trench in the newly cleared easement. At the same time, 80’ lengths of pipe are strung along the right of way adjacent to the trench and arranged so they are accessible to construction personnel. At this point the pipe is bent to conform to the natural ground contours along the pipeline.

By now, the clearing crew has moved ahead to the next section of the right of way, removing the debris and top soil and installing erosion control measures.

As soon as trenching, and pipe stringing and bending are completed in each area, the pipe sections are aligned, welded together and placed on temporary supports along the edge of the trench. All welds are then inspected visually and radiographically before the weld joints are coated with a fusion bond epoxy.

The pipes are then lowered into the ground and the trench is backfilled, and each segment of the pipe is hydrostatically tested to ensure there are no leaks. And so the work will progress until the pipeline is ultimately connected to Dominion’s power plant near Lawrenceville.

It takes 6-8 weeks, from clearing to backfilling, for each section of the pipe. So far, Isbell and Shinn said the project has run fairly smoothly and on schedule. They’ve not encountered any of the myriad of problems that could arise, such as excessive rock that slows drilling or undetected septic tanks, or drain lines that must be removed before work can continue.

When the pipeline is fully operational, it will deliver 270 million standard cubic feet of gas to the two customers who will use the line, Piedmont Electric Cooperative and Dominion Virginia Power. No other customers or, as Williams calls them, “subscribers” will be able to access or tap into the line. Patel says that is by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulation which precludes Williams from installing gas pipelines before there is a demonstrated need and a subscriber.

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