Gas pipeline work near SR 313 raises concerns
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Mar 06, 2014 | 2421 views | 0 0 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Concerns have been raised about the safety of a new natural gas pipeline currently under construction north of Moab. Photo by Dan Mayhews
Concerns have been raised about the safety of a new natural gas pipeline currently under construction north of Moab. Photo by Dan Mayhews
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Non-union contractors began construction work last month on a new natural gas pipeline west of Moab, and the developer believes their presence may be fueling criticism of the project. Some local citizens and environmentalists, however, say the problems actually stem from concerns that improper construction methods could create public safety hazards.

Fidelity Exploration & Production is building the 24-mile Dead Horse Lateral Project to transport natural gas captured from its oil production wells in the Big Flat area to a new processing plant near Dubinky and Blue Hills roads.

Company spokesman Tim Rasmussen said Fidelity hired non-union subcontractor W.C. Striegel, Inc., because it has specific experience working in similar kinds of terrain.

The Rangely, Colo., contractor got started on the project in early February, and since that time, representatives of Pipeliners Union 798 Local have been in the area to observe the construction process, according to Rasmussen.

“They have brought to our attention several perceived issues and we will continue to listen and respond accordingly,” he said in a March 5 email to The Times-Independent.

But Rasmussen said that Fidelity views the union’s activity in the area as a protest against the company’s decision to go with a non-unionized subcontractor. Representatives from the union could not immediately be reached for comment on this story.

The company believes that union representatives have been engaging with local environmental groups and creating concerns among them about the project’s safety.

“We are concerned that their issues are unduly alarming to the public,” Rasmussen said. “We are building a pipeline that we are purposely over-designing for the conditions to ensure public safety and safe operation of the line.”

Local Sierra Club representative Bill Rau countered that one union member has been in the area. That person’s concerns have been documented in photographs and video footage of construction work along the right-of-way, according to Rau.

Among other things, Rau said he is concerned about welding work on one section of the pipeline that could potentially damage its structural integrity.

He said he’s also troubled that Fidelity and its contractors have not taken adequate steps to keep the public away from the pipeline right-of-way.

“It’s not being done according to stipulations in the [project’s Environmental Assessment], as has been observed to date,” he said March 5.

His greatest concern, he said, is that there is the potential for an unforeseen accident to occur.

“I don’t know what it would be, but the potential is definitely there,” he said.

Rasmussen said the steel pipeline has been “over-designed” with public safety in mind to ensure its structural integrity.

The pipeline material has a specified minimum yield strength of 52,000 pounds per square inch, while maximum pressures will reach up to 200 pounds per square inch, according to Rasmussen.

In comparison, he noted that a typical air compressor in a mechanic’s shop has an output of 175 pounds per square inch, while large-volume natural gas pipelines typically operate at pressures of 1,500 pounds per square inch.

Rasmussen said there are no undue hazards present along the right-of-way after working hours. When contractors are on the job, they are instructed to keep the public away from the construction corridor, he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) first approved the project right of way in 1991, but last year, it amended that decision to create a route that is just under three miles shorter.

Agency and company officials said the project will promote conservation of natural gas, which is a byproduct of oil production at Fidelity’s wells on Big Flat near state Route 313.

As of December 2012, those wells and other nearby ones were producing about 2 million cubic feet of gas per day, according to BLM archeologist Aron King.

With additional wells now in production, the company is flaring just over 2 million cubic feet of gas per day, and King noted that the combustion of that gas has an impact on air quality.

Once the pipeline is complete, the BLM anticipates that it will reduce such emissions to “nearly zero,” according to King.

At that point, Rasmussen said the company will be able to capture and process the gas, turning it into methane and other components that can be marketed for beneficial use.

Construction of the pipeline itself should be finished by mid-May, according to Rasmussen. Work on a new booster station and processing plant is expected to take a little longer, but Rasmussen anticipates that all facilities will be in service by the end of June.

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