By Bob Wothe, Corporate Writer and Marketing Specialist, Michels Corporation
Enbridge Inc. sprang into action after confirming a minor anomaly on its 30-inch Line 6B crude oil pipeline where it crosses under the St. Clair River spanning from Marysville, MI to St. Clair Township, Ontario.
After lowering the operating pressure and completing a comprehensive engineering evaluation, Enbridge submitted a written technical and engineering assessment report to United States pipeline safety regulators in September 2010. In a Corrective Action Order issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on September 17, 2010, Enbridge was to “…include project plans and a schedule for total replacement of the pipe in the entire St. Clair River crossing within one year.”
Enbridge needed a contractor that could move quickly and aggressively to overcome the hurdles on this project. In order to complete the 3,454-foot bore and pullback, the contractor would need to be well-versed in technically challenging horizontal directional drills (HDD) using intersect technology. Equally as important, the contractor needed to be comfortable and experienced with working under the scrutiny of myriad permitting agencies from two separate countries that were involved in the initial construction approval phase. Additionally, Enbridge wanted to engage a contractor with demonstrated experience in mitigating risk associated with drilling in close proximity to pre-existing product lines.
Enbridge found that contractor in Michels Corporation. A team from Michels consisting of Michels Directional Crossings, Michels Pipeline Construction and Michels Canada worked together to bid the project and meet Enbridge’s needs. This unit won the job in December and quickly started planning for the work.
The replacement of Line 6B was particularly difficult due to the limited right-of-way options at the site, existing utilities, and Enbridge’s desire to stay above the bedrock. These challenges required careful planning and precision controlled drilling operations to avoid unacceptable utility encounters and potential environmental impacts. Michels provided technical input and supporting data to assist Enbridge in convincing internal review boards and external regulators that this challenging crossing was possible and relatively free of risk if planned and executed properly.
Michels’ ability to provide support from both its U.S.-based and Canada-based operations was extremely crucial throughout the process. Logistical concerns were well planned out as Enbridge worked with Michels procurement group, led by Purchasing Agent Mike Orrange, to negotiate contracts with local vendors and coordinate the delivery of the pipe, mainline valves and valve control buildings.
Sixteen truckloads of the 30-inch-diameter, 0.75-inch-wall-thickness, type X60 pipe were purchased and delivered from Edmonton, Alberta. The two mainline valves already in the Enbridge inventory in Superior, WI, were transported to the worksites on one truck.
Meanwhile, Michels worked with Enbridge to consult with nine different regulating agencies in the U.S. and Canada to acquire permits as needed. These agencies ranged from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Canada National Energy Board, and even the City of Marysville.
Given the degree of external oversight and scrutiny for this high-profile crossing, the start date was postponed several times. Even after work started in February after obtaining the necessary permits and the required clearance, regulating agencies, such as the National Energy Board in Canada and the Office of Pipeline Safety in the U.S., were on site much of the time during construction activities.
The job moved quickly from there thanks to an expert team of Michels’ personnel coordinating the project on the U.S. side of the border. Assistant Operations Manager Ted Foltz and Project Manager Craig Larson led the effort for Michels, while Drill Superintendents Joe Lechner and Cliff McLain oversaw drilling operations. Pipeline Superintendent Kevin Olerud added site preparation and support as the process got under way.
On the Canadian side, Project Manager Gary Ziehr led Drill Superintendents Gary Horbas and Darel Malcolmson in keeping things running smoothly while Safety Supervisor Collin Harding kept things running safely.
The Enbridge team overseeing all of the work consisted of Project Manager Tom Hodge, Construction Manager Marc DeVarennes, and Project Engineer L.J. Stock.
Despite battling challenging winter weather conditions, the drill began on an Enbridge easement owned by the city of Marysville. A temporary sound mitigation structure was erected to deflect noise away from area residents adjacent to the site as the drill got under way in the third week of February. Pipe string assembly and pretesting took place concurrently on the Canadian side on Shell Canada-owned property. The pipe string-out area was adjacent to the existing Line 6B easement, and had a snake-like product pipe string-out while elevated over and across the 75-foot-wide Talfourd Creek on the front end of the pullback near the exit hole.
One of the chief challenges throughout the drill process was implementing several guidance technologies while simultaneously maintaining the critical drill alignment and safe working conditions as well as avoiding environmental impacts. Michels’ state-of-the-art intersect technology came through in the drilling of the pilot hole, with all indications pointing to the intersect taking place on the U.S. side of the border.
With freezing rain falling, pullback operations began on March 9. Pullback was particularly challenging due to the aggressive bend required to get the pipe lined up with the hole. All told, the pullback required five large cranes and two side-booms, which took most of the day and was one of the more visually impressive pullbacks completed by Michels across an international border.
Once pullback was complete, it took roughly a month to set foundations and place new valves and control buildings. Michels installed a new mainline block valve and valve control buildings on both sides of the river. The new pipeline was pressure-tested with water, and the old pipeline under the river was then swabbed, purged with nitrogen, and deactivated.
Through it all, Michels completed this impressive project without any safety or environmental concerns despite being under the constant microscope of regulators.
It is a rare occurrence when a U.S.-based company can perform an international project by staying in the U.S., but Michels’ experience and resources made a potentially painstaking project nothing more than yet another drill that went off without a hitch.