One cool customer

Napoleon once famously said that an army marches on its stomach.

In the pipeline construction industry, crews run on water. Especially in Southeast Texas, and especially in deepest summer, hydration is a crucial safety matter. Crews are constantly encouraged to stay hydrated and to keep ahead of the game by drinking water before they’re thirsty.

And all that water goes down better when it’s cold.

That isn’t news to Jeremy Kunk, owner of Read Ice Company in Kountze, Texas, 25 miles northwest of Beaumont.

“The ice business is a lot like farming. We’re pretty much dependent on the weather. The hotter it is, the more we sell,” Kunk said. “Oh, yeah. The hotter, the better.”

Kunk’s company supplied more than 30,000 pounds of ice each week to TransCanada and its subcontractors on the last 113 miles of the overall 485-mile Gulf Coast Pipeline Project while under construction in Texas and Oklahoma. The pipeline project is now almost 90 per cent complete and expected to begin operation later this year.

“Staying hydrated is a safety issue — whether it’s in pipeline construction or in the refineries that we serve,” Kunk said as dawn was breaking on a muggy day in late spring and his trucks were taking on tons and tons of ice. “In any kind of construction-related industry, they’re reinforcing to their guys daily to stay hydrated, stay cool, don’t get overheated. Slow down. Take a drink. Take care of yourself.”

Read Ice is one of hundreds of vendors sharing in the roughly US$6 million TransCanada has spent each month directly with local businesses in Texas and Oklahoma since construction began in August 2012.

“I found out about TransCanada and the Sunland Construction Company (construction contractor on Gulf Coast Pipeline Project’s southernmost leg) coming into town from the Internet and in the newspaper,” Kunk continued. “I got on the computer and ran them down. They told me they were having a vendor fair at the Holiday Inn in Beaumont. We ended up hooking up, and it worked out great. I’m very pleased.”

Ice isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when pipeline construction comes up, but it is a critical element in the overall job. And not just for TransCanada. Kunk sells to other energy companies within a 60-mile radius of Kountze, especially to refineries. He also provides ice on an as-needed basis to special events.

“We’re currently producing 100 tons (of ice) a day. It was 80 tons a day. We added 20 tons (of production capacity) this last winter in anticipation of big construction jobs like Gulf Coast Pipeline Project coming to town,” he said. Pipeline construction such as TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Pipeline Project “is going to feed our refineries more product and keep us hopping for the next five, 10 years at least.”

But for now, “We’re ready to rock and roll this summer,” he said.

A trio of pipeline construction workers hydrate with bottled water.

Pipeliners beat the heat: Workers on the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project are constantly reminded to stay hydrated while working in Texas and Oklahoma.