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Gas pipeline on schedule,  despite failed pressure test / July 02, 2015
The Virginia Southside Expansion — the name for the newly laid, 100-mile natural gas pipeline from Pittsylvania to Brunswick counties — is nearly complete, despite a recent setback that revealed a flaw in the cast-iron pipe buried underground in the South Hill area.

Hydrostatic testing — a standard industry practice which involves filling the line with water at high pressure for up to 10 hours to test its structural integrity — caused the pipeline to fail near Belfield Road in South Hill.

The test, conducted June 20, resulted in no property damage and “was never any threat to public safety,” said Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Company, owners of the pipeline.

“The failure left a small hole in the ground where the water escaped, but that was about it,” said Stockton.

An entire joint of pipe was removed and sent off to a lab for analysis to determine what may have caused the failure. Stockton said it is unknown if a bad weld was responsible.

Following the test, the pipe joint was replaced, welded, x-rayed and covered over with topsoil. Stockton said an entire section of line — about 18 miles in length — will be re-tested to ensure structural integrity.

“It’s important to emphasize that the test accomplished exactly what it is designed to accomplish, which is to identify any potential weaknesses in the pipe,” Stockton stated in an e-mail. “Ensuring pipeline safety is critical to us, which is why we take extraordinary steps to validate the pipe’s integrity.”

He said the water pressures used in the testing are “far above the pipe’s normal operating pressure so that any potential issues are easily identified and corrected. Our test pressure is actually greater than the test pressure outlined in federal guidelines to ensure an even greater margin of safety.”

The general contractor on the pipeline project is Texas-based Troy Construction, which has been on the ground in South Boston for nearly a year, operating out of the U.S. 58 staging area next to the Wilco Travel Plaza. Troy has a similar staging area in South Hill.

Williams expects that re-testing of the affected portion of pipeline will occur “sometime in the coming weeks,” said Stockton. The pipeline remains on target for completion by the contract date of Sept. 1. It is being built to serve Dominion Power’s new gas-fired power station in eastern Brunswick County.

“We do not expect this to have any impact on the project schedule,” said Stockton.

Hydrostatic testing was conducted on the entire line, divvied up into four sections, and only the eastern portion in the South Hill area failed the exam.

Elsewhere — including in Halifax County — construction and pre-testing is complete, clearing the way for the pipeline to quickly go into service.

The Virginia Southside Expansion, estimated to cost $300 million, branches off from the Williams Transco backbone pipeline that runs up the East Coast. To push supplies of natural gas east into Brunswick County, Williams and Troy also have been upgrading a compressor station in Chatham — the largest aspect of the project yet to be finished.

“Restoration/clean up work remains, as well as work at the compressor station,” said Stockton. Of the current level of employment with the project, “obviously it is ramping down.”

However, Willliams is planning a sequel of sorts to the pipeline project, dubbed the Virginia Southside Expansion II. It involves lengthening the pipe from the lateral at the Brunswick Power Station four miles east into Greensville County, where Dominion is seeking to build a second natural gas-fired power plant. Approval of the Dominion project is pending; in anticipation, Williams has submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval.

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