Gulf Coast construction quickens

Gulf Coast Pipeline truck photo

TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Pipeline is well underway, with the early stages of construction taking place in Texas.

“Getting started is the culmination of four years of research, development, planning design and implementation,” said David Penning, project manager on the 30-inch (.76-meter) diameter,  485-mile (780-kilometer) crude oil pipeline. “It was with a great sense of relief that we actually started construction on Aug. 6.”

“I consider it a privilege to be on the Gulf Coast Project,” said Sandy Williams, spread manager for Gulf Coast Project Spread 3, a 113-mile (182-kilometer) section that stretches from a point south of Lufkin to Nederland, Texas, just outside the refinery complex in Port Arthur. “I’ve been in the pipeline business for 40 years, and I feel like my whole career has led me to this point.”

Sandy Williams photo

Spread 3 Manager Sandy Williams says the Gulf Coast Project is a career highlight.

The Gulf Coast Project is a critical infrastructure project for the energy security of the United States and will employ an estimated 4,000 skilled tradespeople and construction workers and contractors over the next year and a half. U.S. crude oil production has been growing significantly in Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota and Montana. Producers do not have access to enough pipeline capacity to move this production to the large refining market along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast Project will help alleviate this constraint.

At the moment, domestic U.S. production has been piling up at a pipeline, storage and refinery complex near Cushing, Okla. The Gulf Coast Project connects Cushing to Port Arthur.

To date, most of the work has involved surveying and surface preparation of the right of way on the three sections or “spreads” that comprise the project. But other aspects of the overall construction process are gaining speed.

In a process called “stringing,” 80-foot (24-meter) lengths of steel pipe (called joints) have been hauled to various locations on the right of way and laid end-to-end adjacent to where they will ultimately be welded, tested, inspected and lowered into the trench that will be excavated as the Project progresses.

Pipe is also being bent by specialized equipment so the pipeline will conform to the contours of the land when it is welded. Once the trench is dug, long sections of welded pipe are lowered into the trench by a group of machines called side-booms. Special precautions are taken to ensure that the soil returned to the trench that may come in contact with the pipe does not contain objects that might compromise the fusion-bonded epoxy coating that protects the pipe from corrosion.

David Penning photo

Gulf Coast Project Manager David Penning congratulates his team on the start of construction.

As with every other aspect of its various lines of business, TransCanada stresses safety in all phases of pipeline construction.

With several hundred workers performing multiple tasks on each spread on any given day, how do you maintain a safe work environment?
“Everyone at TransCanada knows that safety is one of our core values. But how do you create a safety environment that really involves and focuses on the individual? You do it by creating a sense of family,” Penning said. “And that means watching out for your neighbor, treating them – and I mean this – as though they were your brother or your sister.”

“You have to make everyone from the laborer all the way up to the spread manager and beyond accountable for safety,” said Williams. “Every hour of every day, people need to care about each other. It’s the TransCanada culture. We truly are each other’s keepers.”