Midstream operations Compression and transportation market; pipeline maintenance; and construction
Editor's Note: This is the final part in a six-part series giving a step-by-step look at the process that a natural gas company conducts to produce natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. This final part is collaboration with Access Midstream, formerly Chesapeake Midstream Partners, and the company's methods of operations are not meant to reflect the operations of other natural gas midstream companies.
In the natural gas extraction process, the well pads are typically where all the action is. It's the location where the giant drilling rigs are erected, where the hydraulic fracturing process takes place, where the bridge between energy and the surface are connected. Just as important, but buried beneath our feet, are the pipelines that transport the gas from the pad to the market, where it can then be transported to the homes and businesses that rely on it.
"Our sole purpose is to gather the gas via the gathering lines, condition it and deliver it to the U.S. Interstate Pipeline System," said Randy DeLaune, Access Midstream's area manager in the Marcellus Shale.
While individual well pads face geological challenges ranging from slopes to protecting wetlands and habitat, the pipeline construction process can often face all of these obstacles at once.
"Pennsylvania presents a lot of unique challenges for pipelines as opposed to other states," DeLaune said. "For example, there is some really challenging terrain in the state; sometimes we even need to cable our heavy equipment and trucks down these slopes.
"Winter is an extremely challenging time of year," he continued. "Between the mud and the ice, some companies cease operations in the winter because of the vulnerabilities and cost, but we have perfected techniques that enable us to be successful year-round.
"We go the extra mile because we're committed to keeping workers and the environment safe."
Regarding environmental safety, a number of measures are put in place during and after pipeline construction.
"The pipes are made of carbon steel," DeLaune said. "They're designed to exacting specifications to avoid issues like corrosion. When we need to lay pipeline under a stream or wetland, we use a technique called horizontal directional drilling where we bore under ground vs. trenching to avoid disturbing the surface of those areas. We also install erosion control measures and re-vegetate the ground after burying the pipeline to reclaim any surface disturbance. We try to work quickly on these measures because the hills and weather in Pennsylvania make erosion a constant concern when constructing pipelines.
"Prior to construction, we will walk potential pipeline routes so we know exactly what we're dealing with and avoid disturbing habitats and historical sites," he continued. "We routinely work with landowners to determine where the pipeline will go and learn about any specifics the landowners want addressed in access areas."
When the construction phase has been completed and vegetation around the land has been restored, the pipeline is constantly checked and monitored.
"When it comes to maintaining our equipment and pipelines we adhere to strict regulatory compliance, our own stringent corporate requirements and abide by manufacturers recommendations," DeLaune said. "We have preventive maintenance routines in place as well as methodical monitoring measures. We inspect our safety measures and also perform internal cleaning and inspection of the pipeline through the use of pigs."
Pigs are devices launched through pipeline that clean the pipe of any debris or liquid along its path.
"We also utilize smart pigs," DeLaune said. "Basically, smart pigs take internal x-rays of the pipe looking for corrosion or other pipelines anomalies. It also measures the thickness of the pipe and gives readings to identify any potential problem areas along the line that need to be addressed.
"If the smart pig detects an anomaly, we'll do a pipe dig to recheck the line and we'll replace that section if needed," he added.
While pipelines typically take roughly three months to complete, along with approximately 180 days for permitting, the building process for compressor stations takes significantly longer, with the permitting process alone taking up to a year.
"Compressor stations compress the natural gas from the gathering lines and dehydrate the gas for delivery to the transmission lines," DeLaune said. "Typically, a compressor site will feature compressors, coolers, dehydration systems, volume measurement equipment, monitoring equipment, emergency shutdown measures, pig launchers and receivers, liquid separators and tanks for liquid storage.
"Water is our enemy when it comes to transportation of natural gas," he continued. "While the Marcellus Shale gas is considered dry gas, there are still small amounts of liquids that need to be removed before the gas can be shipped to market."
DeLaune also noted that when the pipeline is no longer being used the pipeline will be removed and the area restored. However, there are times when the landowners want the pipeline to remain in place after being cleaned and preserved.
"Our sole purpose may be getting the gas to market, but we remain committed to our core values: the safety of the general public, our employees and the protection of the environment," he said. "We care deeply about these things, and we know that the most important consideration is working with the communities in which we operate."
Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 265-1639; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story also appears in the latest Northeast Driller, which is available today. To read select stories from the Northeast Driller, visit www.northeastdriller.com.