The last segment of the 713-mile western leg of the Rockies Express Pipeline (REX-West) went into operation last Tuesday as the regulatory process for an eastern leg of the nearly 1,700-mile long pipeline system from the Rockies to eastern Ohio was moving toward completion. The pipeline, owned by Kinder Morgan, ConocoPhillips and Sempra, an unusual pipeline-producer-local distributor combination of backers, will be the largest to go into service across the continent in the last 20 years.
The remaining 210-mile portion of REX-West from an ANR Pipeline meter station in Brown County, KS, to Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line in Audrain County, MO began operating last Tuesday. That followed on the mid-January opening of the approximately 500-mile pipe from the Cheyenne Hub in Weld County, CO, to ANR in Kansas. The throughput on that segment was approximately 1.2 Bcf/d (see NGI, Jan. 14).
The $4.5 billion pipeline taps the rapidly expanding production which had been bottled up in the Rocky Mountain region, sending it across the country to the population and industrial centers in the Midwest and the East.
REX-East, which would extend the pipeline to Clarington, OH, is in the final stages of regulatory proceedings. It received a favorable final environmental nod from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month (see NGI, April 14). That 638-mile addition has a targeted partial in-service date of December 2008, with completion by June 2009. Further extensions into New Jersey are in the planning stages.
Another pipeline segment, the REX-Entrega pipeline on the western end of the system, is in operation from the Meeker Hub in Rio Blanco County, CO, northward to the Wamsutter Hub in Sweetwater County, WY, and then southeastward to the Cheyenne Hub.
The Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) last week restricted the operating pressure of the final REX-West segment somewhat while it investigates allegations by former project inspectors that construction crews hired by the pipeline may have failed to install some safety equipment that could cause problems in the long term.
The agency declined to specify the pressure at which REX-West would be required to operate. A REX spokesman, however, said REX-West was running at 1,100 psi and eventually could go up to 1,480 psi.
The OPS investigation, which began in January, focuses on allegations that from Georgia-based Latex Construction Co. failed to install enough river weights and rock shields around REX-West, said Alan Mayberry, director of engineering and emergency support at OPS. River weights are designed to prevent pipe from floating to the surface in saturated areas, he noted. Rock shields are perforated or mesh rubber material that is used to protect pipelines.
"There were indications they were not used where they were needed," Mayberry said. The OPS ordered Rockies Express to dig up parts of the pipeline, and "we found areas where there were not enough weights installed."
This "does not impose an imminent hazard" in the short term, he noted. But it could become a problem in the long term -- parts of the pipeline could float to the surface. In that event, "we would require REX to shut down the pipeline and rebury the pipeline segment."
The lack of sufficient river weights and rock shields appear to be most prevalent in Spread 5 of REX-West, where Latex Construction worked, Mayberry said. The spread spans about 100 miles and primarily includes Kansas.
"God help the people in Kansas because...there will be a catastrophic failure," said Matthew Burns of Columbus, OH, one of the former REX inspectors who complained about Latex's work in a Denver Post article.
"We're looking at them [REX-West] for assurances of no other problems with weights" or other issues, Mayberry said. In January the OPS expressed concern about the welds on the REX-West pipeline segment (see NGI, Feb. 4). "We worked with them on a number of weld issues. And so far they have resolved them," he told NGI.
In the meantime REX-West will be required to operate at a reduced pressure during the course of the investigation, which could take a couple of months to half a year, said OPS spokesman Damon Hill.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners spokesman Larry Pierce said the issue of the river weights had been addressed. "I know that they have been corrected and installed," Pierce told NGI. "We've had over 800 river weights installed on this spread of the project and we went back and through our investigation...we found some places where they said there were not river weights where there were. And we did find two locations where there weren't. We had over 800 river weights installed on that spread of the project total. And when we went back for this investigation of these allegations, we installed nine more."
REX has worked with the DOT "literally on a daily basis to make sure the pipeline was in safe condition and adequate for beginning to be moved into operation. We've been doing that consistently throughout the project and that's the case here," said Rockies Express spokesman Allen Fore.
Latex Construction is being used or has been used by a number of pipeline companies, mostly in the South, including El Paso's Southern Natural Gas, Florida Gas Transmission, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line, Kinder Morgan, Atlanta Gas Light, Colonial Pipeline Co. and Spectra Energy's Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline.
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