Saturday, February 1, 2014

Enbridge Flanagan South Pipeline Project, Part 1

Last fall I noticed some unusual behavior just before harvest time.  The first field to be harvested in our area had a portion, but not all, of the corn removed.  Since farmers will sometimes harvest a few rows to check the moisture content before they harvest the entire field, I didn't suspect anything unusual until I noticed that the swath of corn removed cut diagonally across the field.  I'd never seen a farmer harvest that way before.  A few days later, a bulldozer arrived and pushed the topsoil into a giant berm on one side of the swath.  Clearly something other than farming was planned for that property.  It wasn't long after the topsoil was moved that other equipment appeared, and ultimately, large sections of pipe were delivered.  A little research identified the project as the Enbridge Flanagan South Pipeline that will traverse almost six hundred miles between Pontiac, Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma.

This 36-inch diameter pipe will carry 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day from oil fields in the Upper Midwest to facilities in Oklahoma which will then transfer it to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico.  The section above is nearest to our house and illustrates some of the pipe preparation before it's laid in the ground.  The pipe is supported on makeshift wooden platforms at a uniform height above grade until all the sections are welded together.  The lack of workers or active equipment in these photos is a result of visiting these sites on a Sunday afternoon.

Although Illinois is relatively flat, the elevation changes along this pipeline route are significant enough to require special strategies.  In the image above a small creek is temporarily bridged and silt fences protect it from excessive soil runoff.  A long section of pipe welded and bent to follow the terrain was not welded in place like the others you see in this image, but was resting next to me on the flat ground on top of this small rise.  It appears that steeper slopes like that in the foreground require the pipe to be welded remotely to its resting place.  I don't know if they used pipelayers to move that section into place or if some other equipment was used.

A few miles from our home, some rolling hills forced another pipeline to span this dip as an elevated structure instead of following the terrain.  I'm not sure, but I believe that pipeline is Enbridge's Spearhead crude oil pipeline that follows the same route as Flanagan South, but is only 22-24" diameter.  Enbridge purchased the Spearhead line about ten years ago, which originally carried oil from the oil fields of Oklahoma and Texas to refineries near Chicago.  By 2006, Enbridge had reversed the flow to allow more Canadian oil to reach refining facilities in Oklahoma, and optionally, the Gulf Coast.

Here's a view of a couple "hillside" sections welded together and waiting to be moved into place.  I'm not sure, but I assume the straight section on the left is close to where it will be buried, while the other two sections to the right will require more manipulation before they come to rest.

A little further east I found this interesting view that illustrates the winding and not-quite-flat route the pipeline traverses.  Next time I'll have more photos and videos of the process of laying the pipe in the trench that will naturally include more people and activity.  Even at this stage, the amount of progress made in just a few weeks is impressive.

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