June 2009 Vol. 236 No. 6


Michels Completes Crucial Water Crossings On Rex Pipeline Project

It may not be the largest or most extensive pipeline project out there, but according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Kinder-Morgan’s Rockies Express (REX) Pipeline is the largest currently under construction and members of the Commission have unofficially dubbed it, “The King of Pipelines.”

REX is a joint development of Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners, L.P., and Sempra Pipelines & Storage, a unit of Sempra Energy and ConocoPhillips. Once completed, the 42-inch pipeline will extend almost 1,700 miles, from Rio Blanco County, CO, to Monroe County, OH.

Michels Directional Crossings, a division of Michels Corporation based in Brownsville, WI, was given the task of completing four deepwater bores on the project, including a tie-in on Blackburn Island, located between the Salt and Mississippi Rivers which border Missouri and Illinois. After the tie-in, crews were scheduled to travel to Ohio and complete the final two deepwater bores.

What made each bore so crucial was that FERC was paying special attention to the crossings because of the high number of levees in the area and the potential risk of environmental contamination to the surrounding, populated areas. Officials from REX not only needed the Blackburn Island tie-in completed without any problems, they also needed crews to complete two additional water bores in Ohio. It was also essential that all four drills be completed on time.

Crucial Bores

Drilling was scheduled to begin near year-end 2008 and be completed within four to five months. One of the many challenges on the project was to complete all four drills in over 100-feet of water.

“We were hired for the job because of our qualifications,” says Michels Directional Crossings Operations Manager Tom Breunig. “We knew how crucial the crossings were to completion of the overall project.”

The first part of the plan consisted of two bores – a 3,500-foot drill across the Salt River and a 3,800-foot drill across the Mississippi River. Both drills would start at the same time and meet on Blackburn Island where crews would complete tie-ins and connect the pipeline from Missouri into Illinois. From here, the pipeline would continue eastward into Ohio where Michels Directional Crossings would complete the next two bores at Big Darby Creek and the Little Miami River.

Despite below-zero temperatures, crews and tons of equipment had to be transported via barges onto Blackburn Island. “Getting to the island was slow, but the challenge was really getting the equipment to work properly in the freezing temperature,” says Breunig.

Salt River Drill–Despite harsh winter weather and difficult soil condition the Salt River drill was completed without incident and ahead of schedule. As drilling began, crews worked in rocky soil. As drilling progressed, conditions became more challenging when they encountered sand. Because of those conditions, crews operated 24-hours a day in order to maintain the integrity of the bore – making sure the pilot hole did not collapse while drilling in the sandy soil.

Mississippi River Crossing–At the Mississippi River location, once drilling began, everything fell into place and crews were moving along at a record pace. That was good news for everyone because at the same time, another crew was working on the 3,800-foot bore across the Mississippi River into Illinois and both needed to be completed prior to the tie-in on Blackburn Island. While crews worked on the Salt River Drill, a second crew and drill rig were busy on the Mississippi River crossing. Both bores were carried out simultaneously in order to ensure both tie-ins could take place at the same time.

According to Michels personnel, the most challenging aspect of the Mississippi River bore was maintaining a solid drill within the sandy soil conditions. Unlike the Salt River drill where the soil contained more rock than sand, the Mississippi River drill was carried out in sand and no rock. The first drill resulted in a collapsed pilot hole, which crews quickly re-swabbed for a successful pull back.

“We are very pleased with the work Michels has done on this job,” says Allen Fore, Rockies Express Pipeline. “The directional crossings are a crucial part of the success of the project, and the efforts by their construction crews were instrumental to the progress on these drills.”

Michels was also able to complete both pullbacks well ahead of schedule, allowing crews from Welded Construction L.P. to move forward with the tie-in on Blackburn Island which was completed within two weeks.

Big Darby Creek Crossing
–After the tie-in on Blackburn Island, crews headed to Ohio for the final two water crossings. The first was at Big Darby Creek, a 3,418-foot, 42-inch crossing crucial to the project because numerous government agencies were keeping a close eye for environmental reasons. The area was surrounded by a walking path and a pristine trout stream that needed to be protected during the boring process.

The chance of an inadvertent return was probable and crews worked around the clock to make sure that didn’t happen. Crews avoided this problem by running the bore deeper to ensure a successful pullback.

“The pullback at Big Darby Creek went as planned and we were able to stay on top of any concerns local officials may have had,” Breunig explained.

Little Miami River Crossing–While work was wrapping up at Big Darby Creek, a different crew and rig began work on the Little Miami River. “The directional drill on this job was going to be different,” says Breunig. “We were going to bore 160-feet beneath the riverbed and right through solid bedrock.”

The pullback also presented a challenge because it required a major change in elevation. The drilling rig was positioned on the lowlands and the bore was being conducted uphill. Because of the elevation change, the odds of an inadvertent return were at an all-time high. For this reason, Michels decided to go a little deeper and avoid the slope. This meant crews had to work longer hours and the drill would be a little longer.

The final bore on the project at Little Miami River was completed successfully at the end of April.

According to officials with Kinder-Morgan, REX has the potential to serve more than 4 million customers across the nation. The pipeline will offer eastern states an opportunity to access a new and plentiful source of Rocky Mountain gas at a rate of nearly 2 Bcf/d.

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